Toast of TaTa

Even when BMW unceremoniously flogged the Land Rover brand to ford back in 2000, even the most casual observer could see that the British marque had masses of potential that had yet to be fully explored by their former Germanic owners. Although this period of stewardship by BMW is not renowned as being the finest chapter in the Solihull brand’s history it did nonetheless lay many of the foundations for the strong position it is currently enjoying; the Mk III Range Rover was fully developed by deutsche mark and it was that vehicle that really propelled the belief that Land Rover (and by association Jaguar) made a proper luxury vehicle for the 21st century.

The 2002 Range Rover was a major departure for the brand

With Ford’s vast empire and financial clout, it seemed they were ideally placed to further this change in fortunes, especially after it was paired with fellow British marque Jaguar in a partnership which in hindsight seems to have predestined from both firm’s conception. Yet sat in Ford’s ‘Premier Auto Group’ alongside Volvo and Lincoln, the focus on cost cutting and profit margins meant that although the vehicles launched in this period (Discovery 3, Range Rover Sport and Freelander 2) were generally well received, they also lacked the premium finishing touches which had made the full-fat Range Rover extra special. Still most people were quite surprised when Ford decided to bail on the brand and bundled it together with Jaguar in a bizarre buy-one-get-one-free deal that did not sit well with die-hard fans of the company, and to top it off the brand was sold to Indian conglomerate Tata, whose sole contribution to the automotive industry is the bargain basement Nano.

Can you believe that the same company makes the Range Rover and this?

However Tata ownership has been very kind to the brand, and they have been content to sit back and provide funding whilst engineers in the Midlands do what they do best and create machines which seem to defy physics (and make people reach for their wallets en masse). This time has seen the transition of the full-fat Range Rover into a pure luxury vehicle, the emergence of the Range Rover Sport from an ugly-duckling into a swan, the birth of the controversial Evoque and not forgetting various tartings-up of the Discovery as it enters it’s later years. Yet despite these successes I am still not entirely convinced on this new generation of vehicles, and although some are starting to win me around I can’t help rolling my eyes whenever I read the latest article on how fantastic these new cars are, whilst overlooking some notable thoughts.

Freelander/Discovery Sport:

I’ve always found the massive differences in Freelander reviews pretty hilarious; in the UK the machine is praised for car like handling and traditional Land Rover strengths off road and practicality-wise, but in the States and elsewhere it has been derided as outdated, thirsty and notably overpriced (especially for a vehicle based on the same platform as many older Fords). Although the Freelander has never really floated my boat, it definately has it’s place as a competitor for mainstream crossovers like the RAV4 and CRV – but being priced to rival Audi’s Q5 and BMW’s X3 has done it no favours and it does appear outdated now. It’s replacement, the Discovery Sport, is a much more contemporary SUV and fits in looks-wise with the new generation of Land/Range Rovers, but I’m just hoping that they don’t inflate the price too much and end up pushing it out of the reach of traditional buyers.

Evoque:

One of the most controversial Land Rovers of recent years, with looks straight off of a concept model and enough celebrity endorsements to rival L’Oreal it makes no apologies for appealing to what has recently become Range Rover heartland (aka Cheshire or Essex). I think the car looks stunning, not for me admittedly but nevertheless it took a lot of guts to approve a design like that for production without watering it down. Inside things are nicely premium too, if a little cramped and with an infotainment system which lags years behind immediate rivals. However for me the Evoque has ended up well overpriced for a vehicle which essentially competes with the Qashqai and co space wise, and even the BMW X1/Audi Q3 are priced well below the near £40k average transaction price for the littlest Rangie. Add into this fuel economy which barely betters that of full size German SUV’s in real life driving (circa 30-35mpg) and I find it hard to admire the Evoque too much.

Defender:

The current Defender barely merits mentioning considering the fact it has remained essentially unchanged for the last two decades, but what the model will become is a massive mystery and a decision which could infuriate Land Rover loyalists much more than the Evoque. It seems likely that the new Defender (if it’s even called that) could replace the Freelander as the entry level product for the brand, probably without turning it into a full soft-roader but making it much more user friendly than the existing Defender. That current model is being retired due to crash restrictions apparently, but it would have been quite interesting to see it being turned into a G-Wagen-esque relic doused in luxury features, something that a highly active aftermarket scene suggests would have worked too.

Discovery 4:

Another Land Rover model which has barely changed in recent years (relatively speaking), the Discovery will soon be the main reminder of Ford ownership in a line-up which has undergone total change in the last 2 years. As a big fan of the Discovery 3 I was a little taken aback when the 4 launched; essentially the same vehicle but with a heap more visual trinkets in addition to a plusher interior, improved engines and much steeper price tag, it seemed to be becoming unnecessarily close to the Range Rover Sport in terms of price and positioning. Yet time has given me an appreciation for this much more refined product, and I will be fighting off the urge to indulge in one when it comes time to change my car – particularly because they are saddled with a below-par infotainment system and high road tax (unless you manage to nab a post 2012 facelift version with 8 speed ZF automatic). When the Discovery 5(?) is launched in the next couple of years it will be a shame to see the current car go, even if it is getting very outdated, and it will also be a shame to see the price climb any further – although I suspect that the £50k price tag of the current car sits pretty nicely with the now pricier Range Rover models.

Range Rover Sport:

I had no problem at all with the original Range Rover Sport –  I came pretty close to buying one and although I know I made the right choice in getting my X5 it remains one of the few former potentials which I find myself gazing wistfully at. Still poor performance, fuel economy, reliability and interior quality gave plenty of ammunition who saw the car as merely a tarted up Discovery…which in truth is all it really was. As with the Discovery the 2009 facelift significantly improved most things bar fuel economy and infotainment, but if anything it gave buyers less of a reason to choose the Sport given that the Discovery was now so close in nearly all respects. However the second generation car has changed all that – based on the aluminium full-fat Range Rover platform and shedding pounds of weight (though gaining pounds of price), it is now a world-beater almost in a class of it’s own. Compared to the slightly awkward new full-fat Rangie, the sleeker details of the Sport make it a winner in my eyes, and if they can only sort the bloody infotainment system and make sure it’s reliable then they will shift as many as they can make…even at £75k a pop.

Range Rover:

In terms of tough acts to follow the 3rd generation Range Rover was amongst the hardest. Here we had a car conceived under BMW ownership, launched by Ford and then overhauled by Tata, but had amassed a worldwide following ranging from drug dealers to Royalty – not an enviable task and not one I was totally won over by when the car launched just two years ago. Of course the secret to maintaining a successful product like the Range Rover is to change just the right amount to keep it up to date and desirable, without changing the key characteristics that made it  successful. Apple do this to a tee with the iPhone and on the whole Land Rover did this with their flagship product, but whilst some things changed for the better (reduced weight and improved fuel economy), the looks of the car are a little too ‘Dame Edna’ and the interior has lost a good chunk of charm in my opinion too. It’s mainly the lights that bug me, so much so that I pretty much would choose the third generation car despite the higher taxes and dated dynamics.

So yes overall I’m enthusiastic about Land Rover’s future, but I would hope that they try to remain sensible with their prices and place emphasis on improving their infotainment system and reliability over forcing themselves into niches that aren’t needed.

Advertisements

4 responses to “Toast of TaTa

  1. The real Land Rover company died in the 80’s. The name should have died at the same time.

    It frustrates and embarrases me that the amazing vehicles that my wife and I drive are associated with the same manufacturer that now produces hair dresser cars.

    Yes, they now produce high volumes of vehicles and make good profits but they are NOT Land Rovers. No matter how much LR’s marketing people will try to pursuade you that their vehicles will perform as well off road as the vehicles my wife and I drive, the truth is that they are missing the point. This is not about how they can drive off road once when under the scrutiny of the media but how well they perform day in day out over tens of years. While the Range Rover/Discovery and even Evoque are all capable of traversing rough ground once, try doing it daily, carrying heavy payloads and using high lift jacks to get them out of problems and those low slung bumpers and curvacious panels soon get ripped apart. Their electrical systems can’t cope with prolonged abuse and very rapidly they are the most unreliable highly expensive ornaments. The real test of a good working vehicle is how long it can last, how easy it is to repair and how economical it is to repair. The last Land Rover to meet these strict criteria was produced in 1985.

    Since then the company has produced very successful models, all of which are road going CARS designed for people that haven’t a clue how to drive off road, have no intention of ever doing so and where the majority will never use their vehicle in a hard working role. They sell these based on the historical values of previous Land Rovers but in reality the vast majority of owners of the proper Land Rovers simply can’t stand the current models or their owners. They are not the same market and hence in the view of many, many classic Land Rover owners the name should have died with glory rather than being left alive and associated with yuppee mobiles!

  2. Having said all that I guess it is not just Tata at fault in using the historical glory of a marque to sell new cars. We now have a Chinese company making cars badged as MG’s. They have absolutely nothing in common with the MG’s of old (probably more reliable to be fair!) and it saddens me that a marque associated with genuinely mould breaking small relatively cheap performance cars for the masses is now associated with regurgitated middle of the road hatchbacks with no real performance and no real character 😦

  3. Yes the Chinese MG’s are something of an embarrassment to MG’s of old, but even before that they were just tarted up 90’s Hondas and since the 80’s have only been ‘sporty’ versions of Rovers, so it’s hard to blame the Chinese for continuing the trend. It is sad that manufacturers feel the need to cash-in on the heritage of old brands but at the same time production methods and buyer’s expectations have changed so drastically over the last 30 years that it wouldn’t really be feasible to sell vehicles on a large scale without making huge changes. I agree that Land Rovers of today are vastly overengineered and overcomplicated for both on and off road use respectively, but even if they launched something like a stripped out version of the current Defender I doubt the take-up or profit margins would warrant any development costs :/

    • It is hard to say whether there a market for a basic Defender because of several factors. 1) The current sales are falling partly because buyers are holding off to see what the replacement is like. 2) Even recently they were selling 20K units a year which is actually a lot of vehicles but sadly it is regarded as small simply because of todays vast companies with equally vast expectations for sales figures and profits. 3) The dreadful quality control of all Land Rovers products including the Defender has led to many people switching brands 4) There is more competition these days in the market that Land Rover once dominated – farmers now use quad bikes and things like the John Deere Gator and many other sectors are perfectly well served by japanese pickup trucks. 5) The Land Rover company is simply not interested in making working vehicles because the man at the top is a yuppie and is only interested in image and profit so he has deliberately run the working vehicle side of the business down.

      Now curiously the japanese have done exactly the same thing as Land Rover and have pushed their pickup trucks that far up market in both image and specification that they are pricing themselves out of the working vehicle market.

      On top of that they have made their vehicles less basic in order to cater for yuppies and in doing so have destroyed the trucks ability to last in the working environment. The last decent pickup trucks were made 10 years ago. I have had a local builder repeatedly knock on my door offering to buy my 10 year old pickup because none of the newer ones he has bought have lasted very long as their 6 speed gearboxes are so weak they can’t tow, their engines are not torquey at low revs so can’t tow or carry tons of building materials, the suspension is softer and now fails regularly in the working environment and the trucks electronics have all failed at great cost. My Mazda B2500 is one of the last generation with a strong gearbox, strong chassis and bullet proof suspension and has virtually no electronics on it. It looks like Toyota, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Isuzu and Ford are losing sales in the working truck market to cheap chinese/indian models that may be inferior technically but are cheap to buy and are generally just as good for a working vehicle.

      So I believe there is a good market for a cheap, strong, basic working truck. Sadly it just won’t happen because no car company is interested in building specific models to suit a small segment. They want to use the same basic platform for all their vehicles and those platforms are simply not suitable for the working sector.

      There is also more profit to be had selling overpriced junk to wealthy vane people who replace their cars every few years as image is more important to them than mechanical longevity, ease of repair or ruggedness. 😦

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s