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LR’s revival starts here

Driven: Local boss Steve Morten (pictured below) says fresh new product will revive Land Rover sales.

The new Sport, Rangie and Disco must drive sagging Land Rover sales up

12 Aug 2005

LAND ROVER’S priority is to grow its floundering business in Australia.

Delivering a stinging message at the launch of the new Range Rover Sport last week, Land Rover Australia managing director, Steve Morten, said sales should lift to around 4000 units per annum by the end of next year.

"Our retailers and our head office are not content with our current level of sales performance," Mr Morten said.

The company is facing another poor result this year, recording just 1345 sales for the six months ending June 30 – down 300 units over the same period last year and 700 units over the corresponding period in 2003.

It recorded a dismal 3143 sales for the full 12 months last year, 755 units fewer than in 2003.

Fresh product is considered central to raising the British brand’s sales in Australia.

The new Sport, based on the Discovery III but boasting a bespoke body and interior to make it seem more like a smaller Range Rover, is expected to add up to 1000 sales in its first year.

However, Mr Morten was frank about being unsure how well the vehicle will be received, and whether it would eat into market share held by the Discovery and Range Rover.

"It all depends on this unknown difference between substitution and increment," he said. "We’ve got our plans, we’ve got our view, we’ve got an idea – but it might be 50 per cent out. We’re just not sure."Launched in April, the latest Discovery found 272 buyers in June – almost 100 units ahead of June 2004 – however it still trails the previous model in year-to-date terms. Mr Morten said the aim next year was to sell "well in excess of 2000" units.

Meanwhile, the re-engineered Range Rover Vogue, launched last week with powerful new Jaguar V8s, should contribute around 200 units next year.

A replacement for the current Freelander, a vehicle that has struggled in Australia, is not due until 2007.

Just six years ago, 7020 Land Rovers were sold in Australia.

However, the impact of the BMW X5 – ironically a Land Rover cousin before Ford’s 2000 buy-out – as well as Mercedes’ M-class and the Lexus RX330, saw around 2500 sales vanish by 2002.

Nonetheless, Mr Morten remained optimistic.

"If you compared us to other SUVs in Australia we were definitely small fish ... we were so small that they didn’t even think about us," he said.

24 center image"(But) I think they’ve started to think of us now – the Toyotas and the Lexuses and the Mitsubishis and the BMWs – because we’ve suddenly come out with a range of products that are, frankly, better than theirs.

"And I think that makes people sit up and take notice.

"We’ve got to attract people who in the past might have said: "Land Rover ... dodgy old British cars!"Now that we’ve got a modern, high-tech performing, luxury, quality car, I’d like to think that a lot of people we’ve not seen before, or those who were with us but who went away because they were dissatisfied with our offerings, will be coming (back)," he said.

When push comes to shove, Polites will be the right man for Land Rover: Morten

STEVE Morten does not believe much will change for Land Rover’s Australian operations now that former Ford Australia boss Geoff Polites has been named the new head of worldwide operations of the British brand.

"I don’t think because Geoff has come from Ford Australia that it makes one little bit of difference to Land Rover here," he told GoAuto last week.

"I think Geoff will take the world view as head of Jaguar/Land Rover worldwide. I don’t think Australia will suffer or gain particularly because he is Australian."Yet Mr Morten is keen that Mr Polites’ understanding of the Australian market might assist his cause.

"He’s got a reputation in Australia for getting through the organisation of Ford (HQ in Detroit) to get something through that’s right. And I think he’s won a lot of admirers for that," Mr Morten said.

"The Territory is a case of point. It was not one of Dearborn’s (head office’s) favourite product-development plans but he pushed it through, it worked and all power to him.

"That’s what we want – someone to do that pushing for us."

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