In talk with Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern

Jaguar Land Rover is going through an incredible time. The undisputed makers of sports-utility cars, way before SUV became a household name, is redesigning its core models and introducing new cars. Last week the marque revealed its new Discovery design, a pinnacle model in the Discovery range to bridge the more luxurious Range Rover and soon to be updated rugged Defender.

The new Discovery’s design is simple, yet clever with a focus on providing the perfect family car. Its optimised seats can be configured in seemingly endless ways through the car’s touch screen or remotely on your smart phone to sit seven adult size occupants comfortably, and the intelligently packaged boot almost encourages an active, outdoors lifestyle.

We caught up with director of design Gerry McGovern at the show to learn more.

The new car is visibly much more polished

I love the ruggedness and hardness of this car, and yes I know some people will complain that it has lost its boxiness but that’s deliberate. A box is a brick and a brick doesn’t sail through air well. So we needed to make the car more aerodynamic, we deliberately put more form into it, and yes I wanted it to be sexy. Why shouldn’t a seven seat be handsome.

It feels closer in spirit to the Range Rover. Was this intentional?

We are deliberately moving Discovery closer to Range Rover as customers want it to be more luxurious and more premium but we will always retain the versatility. The main difference between Range Rovers and Discoveries is that level of versatility. So we would never do a Range Rover like this. Their identities are very different.

You are going through an interesting time with the entire family being redesigned, and new models being introduced.

Yes, we are on this journey of transformation, and until the Defender comes it won’t be clear what the strategy is. We’ve had the Evoque and Range Rover Sport but there will be more to come on the Range Rover family, and the Discovery family has only two members, this new car and the Discovery Sport, and it will also be growing. It will be so much easier to talk about this strategy when the Defender is out.

You’ve just shown the world’s largest ever Lego structure, an interpretation of London’s Tower Bridge, for the launch of the Discovery. I guess your work with the brand is also much like building blocks?

Yes, absolutely. It really is!

Can you explain the three sub-brands, so to speak, within the Land Rover group: Range Rover, Discovery and Defender?

Their identities are very different: Range Rover is about luxury, Discovery versatility, Defender durability. Range Rover is formal – it is the most luxurious interpretation of a Land Rover product and the new Defender will be the absolute polarisation of the Range Rover in every way.

I’m looking forward to seeing your vision for the twenty-first century Defender. How do you design durability?

You just have to wait… it’ll be worth waiting for.

So we should look forward to a much larger family of cars?

When you consider that there will be over twenty million SUV type products by 2020 then yes, we have a case for expanding the range. When the Discovery first came out, people weren’t doing the multitude of different lifestyle activities as they do today. SUVs enable people to do more for they are more flexible and spacious, and for me this Discovery is the optimum expression of this. It is flexible, connected, modern and sits beautifully and yet you can still see it is a Discovery and that is no easy task. It is a tribute to all the people who built it who took Discovery DNA and made it more relevant.

The concept of luxury is evolving to mean so many other less tangible things like time, authenticity, sustainability… How is Land Rover responding this?

Part of my job as the custodian of the brand is to make sure I make the people in the business who are signing the cheques realise they need to move on and embrace change. The automotive world can be traditionalists, a little old fashioned, and often to them luxury means leather, shinny metal. Wait till you see what’s coming next!

The interior, colour and trim, are interesting areas to explore new thinking, materials and ideologies, such as the vegan movement…

Yes, colour and materials is a great brand differentiator. If only you could see some of the work we’re doing in the studio… there is huge potential to do some incredible stuff. I completely agree that the days of shinny metal and leather are numbered, but there will always be people who will want this so it is a balance.

Is this something that the Jaguar Land Rover sub-brand SVO (special vehicles operation) can focus on more than the mainstream brand?

Yes, it is something we’re very focused on especially through SVO where we can be more experimental. We do one-off cars here, but everything we design with a client needs to be balanced and relevant to the brand.

Does the prospect of electrification and autonomous driving excite you?

I am and I am not. I am in terms of the opportunities it allows you to review the architecture of the vehicle in a different way. What can the occupants do when not driving? What will the cabin look like without a steering wheel? I do, however, always think there will be the desire to take control of the wheel, and to be fully autonomous will take a bit of a mental shift. But yes it is the most interesting and challenging subject in the automotive business.

Nargess Banks

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New Range Rover in Morocco

Morocco is a curious mix. On the one hand cities like Marrakech have become magnets for hipster travellers, chic boutique hoteliers, designer bars and restaurants. On the other is a vast, predominantly peasant land where donkeys, camels and beat-up minivans, packed dangerously high with cattle, form the main mode of transport. High-end luxury meets robust living in Morocco – qualities shared by the new Range Rover, launched here.

Now in its fourth incarnation, the car is, in the words of global brand director John Edwards, a ‘special blend of luxury, performance and unmatched all-terrain capability’. This more of less sums up this excellent modern-day interpretation of the Range Rover – a car that was introduced to us 40 years ago when the world was a very different place.

 

Morocco presents a perfect spot for some real life off-roading in a car that will probably spend most of its lifetime in the urban environment yet is clearly very capable away from smooth asphalt. We should know since for over an hour we’ve been driving uphill dirt tracks through the Atlas Mountains – a gust of red dust occasionally disrupting the crystal clear air. Sitting high and comfortably in our cool air-conditioned cabin we watch in silence as the dramatic Moroccan landscape unfolds before us. Few cars venture in these remote parts, which are mostly inhabited by the Berber tribes

Jaguar Land Rover engineers are so completely secure with this car that they are testing it in the real life sand dunes, rock-strewn dirt roads, rivers and now the high altitude Atlas on pretty hairy dirt tracks carved in the mountainside.

The previous night, over dinner at the Palais Namaskar on the outskirts of Marrakech, over a meal of foie gras delicately wrapped in chicken, head of Land Rover design Gerry McGovern told me: ‘As much as we love the current vehicle, it was time to replace it.’ Sitting side-by-side outside on the hotel drive, I can see his point.

At just under 5m long, the new Range Rover has a very similar footprint to the outgoing model, but it has a smoother and more streamline profile – the roofline has been dropped by 20mm helping the car appear smaller, more compact. The faster screen angles also improve aerodynamics, and with a drag coefficient starting from just 0.34, this is the most aero Range Rover to date.

‘Every surface, every line is there for a reason,’ Gerry tells me. For instance the vertical fins reduce the visual length of the vehicle, and the flourishes on the lamp make visual connections with the smaller Evoque. Land Rover is keen to create a visual connection between its ‘work horse’ Land Rover range on the one side and the more luxurious Range Rover cars on the other. This is very much at the heart of its product and design strategy.

In the Range Rover driver’s seat, the centre console is uncluttered and simple with a nice mix of digital and analogue gauges. There’s a double glovebox, roomy door pockets and even a little fridge in the centre console that fits four small bottles of water and a couple of chocolate bars, which has come in handy on this rugged road trip.

A longer wheelbase allows for 118m worth of extra legroom for rear passengers – ideal for markets like China where customers are more likely to be chauffeured around. There is also the optional two-seat Executive Class package, which Gerry likens to flying business class. ‘It is a fantastic environment,’ he muses.

On the road the new Range Rover has gone to a new level in terms of its handling and performance as we have been discovering here. This is a lighter and tougher car thanks to its all aluminium body structure – a first amongst SUVs. It helps saves 420kg in weight. The revised suspension is a huge improvement too, especially in its low-speed ride quality where you don’t feel smaller bumps and the new Range Rover is much more refined on the motorway.

‘We believe we’re a brand on fire,’ says Gerry. The designer isn’t exaggerating. Sales were up 46 per cent with record number of vehicles sold in the last 12 months. The small Evoque alone sold over 100,000 vehicles becoming the fastest selling Land Rover to date. Like the design or not, the car has clearly resonated with buyers and brought something like 85 per cent new customers to the marque!

‘The car shows how far our brand can stretch and I keep asking myself where are the other white spaces, and opportunities,’ he says. Though not officially confirmed, an even smaller Range Rover is planned, one that will sit underneath the Evoque. I cannot help thinking this too will introduce the brand to an even larger consumer base.

With sales scheduled to start in late 2012, the all-new Range Rover will be introduced in 170 markets worldwide.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our earlier interview with Gerry McGovern on here.

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