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First look: Land Rover's sneak preview

Sporting chance: Land Rover's new wagon could be called the Range Rover Sport.

Land Rover boss Mathew Taylor gives a clue to the future at Frankfurt

22 Sep 2003

BRITISH off-road specialist Land Rover was playing the ducks and drakes game at the Frankfurt motor show, issuing a shadowy shot of a wagon that will be positioned between the Land Rover Discovery and the Range Rover.

Some suggest its name will be Range Rover Sport and that it will be a three-door, but company managing director Mathew Taylor was not giving much away at Frankfurt "We can leverage Range Rover brand values without calling it a Range Rover," Mr Taylor said.

"I can’t reveal any details at this stage, that’s for next year. But I can assure you this will be one of the most exciting Land Rover vehicles ever to take a show podium.

"It will enter a new sector for Land Rover and will help drive growth and the strength of our business." There is already a local connection for the new vehicle, as Mr Taylor confirmed a prototype was now in Australia testing.

The new wagon will also share its ladder-type chassis with the next generation Discovery and Defender.

Land Rover is aiming directly for BMW's X5 and Porsche's new Cayenne with this car. Engine choices are expected to be Land Rover-modified Jaguar V6, and supercharged V8.

Timing? Mr Taylor's words would indicate a 2004 reveal for a 2005 launch in Europe. That makes sense considering the new Disco is already scheduled to go on sale in 2004.

Meanwhile, the new Discovery will make its first public appearance at the Detroit motor show in January, and it goes on sale in Europe late next year. But Australian buyers will have to wait until the first quarter of 2005 before they can get their hands on the vehicle.

"The next Discovery will be as perfect for Australia as (any vehicle) we can do," Mr Taylor said. "It will be excellent on and off road." The Discovery will be a significant vehicle in that it will use drivetrains never before seen under the bonnet of a Land Rover.

"When we work on the the Discovery, we have the option of using anything (in terms of drivetrains) from the Ford Motor Company. It will be the first opportunity to do so," Mr Taylor said.

"Ford has a wide range of engines, so does Volvo and Jaguar. But we need powertrains that have been specifically developed for our type of application. Having said that, I can’t see an Explorer’s V8 engine under the bonnet of a Range Rover.

"We have a fairly open contract with BMW, so we’re not under pressure to find an immediate replacement for the Range Rover’s powerplant. But it will eventually be a priority." Mr Taylor said Land Rover’s global prospects were buoyant despite the onslaught of a horde of new four-wheel drive contenders by rival car-makers.

“Worldwide Discovery sales are up year on year and I’m absolutely ecstatic with Range Rover (sales)," he said.

"We will do 31,000 Range Rovers worldwide this year, which is our best result ever. And this is despite the fact that prices went up by up to 30 per cent in some European markets.

"The Range Rover doesn’t try to be something that it isn’t. Its blend of luxury, comfort and off-road ability is offered by no-one else. This gives it longevity. It was a big investment, so it will have to do its time." While the future of the Range Rover and Discovery appear secure, Mr Taylor confessed the utilitarian Defender presented a challenge.

"We’re selling 25,000 to 27,000 Defenders a year and that stability will continue if we invest in emissions," he said.

“Today’s vehicle has tremendous strengths but it’s perceived by many as a military vehicle. The option is to carry on or work off a platform that we’re developing (based on the Discovery). A question that we will need to ask ourselves is: ‘Is it different enough from other vehicles in the range?’" Meanwhile, the entry level Freelander has just come in for a nip and tuck to spark renewed interest in the model. It has been a consistent performer in Europe, but Australian sales have not been anything to write home about.

The facelifted model – due Down Under in January – borrows several Range Rover styling cues and will be offered only with diesel power. Trim levels have been improved and Land Rover officials say it will offer a better value proposition than its predecessor.

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