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Range Rover Velar luxury SUV targets younger drivers with car-like feel

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-03-2017 Christopher Jasper

London: Range Rover’s new Velar SUV will be the brand’s most road-friendly auto yet, allowing manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover Plc to put the squeeze on top-selling models from BMW AG and Audi, JLR chief executive officer Ralf Speth said Wednesday as the car was unveiled.

The Velar will be 20 cm (8 inches) lower than the traditional Range Rover, reducing the degree of roll or tilt when cornering and marking the model out as a true driver’s car, Speth said at the Design Museum in London, where the SUV made its public debut.

Priced from £44,000 ($54,000), the Velar will fill the gap between the $42,000 Evoque, which debuted in 2010, and the Range Rover Sport, which sells from about $65,000 after a ground-up revamp in 2013. Aside from its handling, the model is characterized by a minimalist design and new dashboard with three touch-screen information panels or “plates,” Speth said.

“It’s a more car-like Range Rover, but still with SUV capabilities,” the CEO said in an interview. “It’s lower, but there’s a higher seating position. It’s also a modernistic design, very dynamic, and we have this plate technology, with the opportunity to shift the contents from one screen to the another.”

The Velar will compete with SUVs including BMW’s X5 and the Q7 from Volkswagen AG’s Audi arm, the CEO said. While he declined to comment on sales volumes, production could be running at almost 52,000 cars a year by 2019, according to analysts at IHS Markit, who estimate that Range Rover Sport output may fall below 70,000 units from 87,000 last year.

IHS’s projection for the Velar “would be a good number”, though sales could be higher still, according to Jeremy Hicks, JLR’s managing director for the UK, who said about 70% of customers are expected to be new to the brand, with the rest scaling up from the Evoque or down from the Range Rover Sport.

‘Younger audience’

“What we’re trying to do is get to a younger audience,” Hicks said in an interview. “We want to attract people who are in their forties and upwards, not fifties and upwards.” The US and China will be key markets, though market share may be highest in the UK, he said.

The Velar, which shares the same underpinnings as the Jaguar F-Pace SUV and will be built on the same production line in Solihull, England, will come in diesel and petrol variants powered by JLR’s Ingenium engine.

The model, which takes its name from the prototype of the original Range Rover, could also be offered as a hybrid, Speth said. By 2020, about half of JLR’s product range will be available with alternative propulsion systems to the internal combustion engine, according to Hicks, who said that the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace concept car has garnered 350 pre-orders, with a manufacturing location to be announced next week at the Geneva International Motor Show.

Gerry McGovern, JLR’s chief design officer, said at a launch ceremony attended by former Homeland star Damian Lewis and chart-topping singer-songwriter Rag ’n’ Bone Man that the Velar is a product of a “reductionist” approach, in which features are hidden until activated, much as they are on a smartphone. The vehicle’s recessed door handles slide out when a key holder approaches, while the screen-based dashboard is virtually free of buttons and dials.

Defender decision

JLR’s Land Rover division, the original maker of rugged all-terrain vehicles, is seeking to fend off competition as other carmakers push into the burgeoning market for SUVs and crossovers, including the upscale Bentayga from Volkswagen’s Bentley nameplate and the Levante built by Italy’s Maserati.

The Velar is critical to reviving JLR’s profitability following a rapid expansion since a takeover by Indian carmaker Tata Motors Ltd. Its earnings for the nine months through December dropped 15%, which the company blamed in part on a weaker product mix and higher marketing spending.

Speth said he remains committed to replacing the original Land Rover Defender, without specifying when an announcement might be made. Production of the iconic model ended in 2016 after 68 years, and while the successor will be “more capable than ever,” according to the CEO, environmental restrictions mean that it might not be targeted at the same global workhorse role.

While the new Defender will be designed in the UK, it isn’t certain to be built in the country, Speth said. Both the Solihull and Halewood factories are operating close to capacity, and JLR is building a lower-cost plant in Slovakia at a cost of £1 billion.

Even with the introduction of the Velar, which gives Range Rover four models, led by the ultra-luxurious Evoque, Land Rover will still have gaps or in its lineup, Speth said, most notably in the Discovery brand, comprising the Discovery Sport, which began deliveries in 2015, and the redesigned Discovery 5, which was unveiled in September. Bloomberg

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