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Coming: The compact Range Rover LRX will be built alongside the Land Rover Freelander in the UK.

First compact Rangie is little more than 12 months away

21 Sep 2009

BRITAIN’S mould-breaking Range Rover LRX will receive official production approval before the end of this year, ahead of UK construction and global sales from early 2011.

However, the first compact Range Rover is expected to look significantly different to the sleek three-door concept that stunned the world when it debuted at the 2008 Detroit motor show, before appearing at the Melbourne show less than two months later as Land Rover’s second concept car.

And while it may prove more popular in Australia than the Land Rover Freelander, which is outsold almost two-fold by the Discovery, the smallest Range Rover will be both smaller and more expensive than the Freelander, which opens at $49,990 here.

Land Rover’s global managing director Phil Popham confirmed the LRX would go on sale in 2011, pending the project’s successful passage through what the company calls its final engineering gateway, which is expected by December.

“There is a market for a smaller car than what we currently produce,” Mr Popham told GoAuto at last week’s Frankfurt motor show. “But it won’t be an entry-level car. It will be a premium car – it won’t be cheaper than Freelander.

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“We’ve still got an engineering gateway to get through before program approval, which basically releases all the funds to take this car to market, so we’ve still got to get through that.

“That gateway comes up in a couple of months – before the end of the year – and if we get through that you’ll see something in 2011,” he said.

Mr Popham said the decision to brand the LRX as a Range Rover – rather than position it alongside the Defender, Freelander and Discovery in the Land Rover stable – followed the company’s most comprehensive research program in the UK, North America and Asia to understand what customers wanted out of the car following its Detroit debut.

“There is no doubt that the compact premium segment is the fastest growing in the world, bar none,” he said. “The small premium SUV segment is ahead of all the other car segments around the world, in established markets and in growing markets like China, Russia and Brazil.

“What the trends and research we’ve done show is that people want the performance, the capability and refinement that comes in a Range Rover package.

“With investments like this, to produce a new car costs hundreds of millions of pounds so you take a long-term view. It’s got to make money during the life of the product, so you’re looking at trends for the long-term.

“A trend specific to LRX is that it will go into a segment that’s growing very quickly. The other trend we see generally that supports all of our products is the world is becoming more affluent.

“It doesn’t feel like that at the moment or over the last 12 months, but if you look at the long-terms trends, driven largely by the developing markets, there are more and more people who can afford premium cars that are brand savvy, that are discerning.

“So that’s certainly influencing our product development program in terms what features, what level of refinement, what capability, what they want to use the cars for, how we position the brand,” he said.

Land Rover Australia marketing and public affairs manager Kevin Goult said his company would “be mad” not to import the LRX, and Mr Popham confirmed the Freelander-based wagon would be a global model.

“Any model we produce we produce for the global market,” said Mr Popham. “We currently sell into 165 markets and they’re incredibly diverse. Asia wants petrol engines, Europe want predominantly diesel, Australia wants both, the Middle East and US both want petrol.

“So we have a range of engine and features designed for the markets into which we’ll be selling.

“It will be a very new concept for the US, where downsizing is beginning to happen, but from a much slower starting point. So our assumptions have been naturally quite conservative for the US, but we see it fitting straight into the European market and Asian markets.” Mr Popham said the LRX began as a “whitespace” project to examine the most logical direction for Land Rover’s sixth vehicle line. He said the LRX would create a new vehicle type, but he nominated forthcoming German vehicles such as the BMW’s X1 and Audi’s Q3 as the vehicle’s most direct rival.

“We described the project when we first started development of the concept as a whitespace project.

“By whitespace we mean a segment that doesn’t really exist, that sits around the portfolio of products that we’ve got. We believe that we can actually create, if you like, a sub-segment with a small car that will be a Range Rover.

“(But) The closest competitors, if you will, will be X1 or Q3 – or whatever they end up calling it – that type of product. But we think we can distinguish ourselves as a small Range Rover with what Range Rover stands for and with what this car will contribute.” Mr Popham denied the LRX would offer the least off-road ability of all its models, saying it would deliver a range of on and off-road capability that was best-in-class.

“The one thing I can guarantee is the car will have the greatest breadth of capability in the class in which it exists,” he said.

Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern would not be drawn on whether the production LRX would come with three or, more logically, five doors, but conceded the latter would appear less dramatic.

“We developed a three-door coupe because this vehicle does have a lot of high image but it also has a level or practicality and credibility,” he told GoAuto.

“Would we consider doing the five-door version of it? Well I haven’t said anything. I’ll let you be the judge of that. The three-door coupe is the image-leading vehicle – that’s the vehicle we did as the concept. How it manifests itself when it comes into production, you’ll just have to wait and see.

“Clearly when you’ve got a three-door the emphasis is on the frontal compartment. That gives you the ability to have a dramatically falling roof and dramatically rising beltline – it’s quite a unique silhouette.

“If you introduce the extra doors clearly you’re going to lift the roof at the back to give more headroom … it would give you a slightly different look.

“It might give you a less dramatic vehicle but not necessarily a less interesting vehicle.” Latest UK media speculation suggests Land Rover will reveal the production LRX on June 17 next year, to mark the 40th anniversary of Range Rover.

Production will take place at the same Halewood factory in Merseyside where the Freelander is produced, with the British government in March committing £27 million ($A57.4 million) towards the vehicle’s estimated £400 million ($A851 million) total development cost.

“We haven’t confirmed we’re going into production with it yet, but we’re well into the engineering maturation process and we’re not that far away from it, if I’m honest,” said Mr McGovern.

“Personally, I think we’d be mad if we don’t produce it.”

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