As JLR moves further into the white space of seemingly infinite possibility, we ask a few awkward questions.
This week, Autocar exclusively reported the prospect that JLR is advanced on developing a more road-biased, Range-Rover-derived vehicle, said by the journal to be dubbed Road-Rover. According to journalist, Hilton Holloway, the forthcoming model, set to debut in about three years time, will be the first of a range of cars aimed at the top end of the luxury market. But one aspect missing from Autocar’s piece is any meaningful analysis of the possible implications for JLR’s existing brands.
In a recent interview, Land Rover Chief Creative Officer, Gerry McGovern hinted at what he described as ‘white space’ within JLR’s overtly off-road offerings; the sort of thinking it’s said which led to the development of both RR Evoque and Velar models. He also laid hints that not only would they seek to move into the space being opened up by Bentley and Rolls Royce in the more rarified outposts of the SUV tundra, but also that his design team have been looking at more road-focused offerings.
There is some logic in this, insofar as the Range-Rover brand has huge recognition worldwide and commands a significant price premium over its sibling JLR marques. Therefore, to gain entry and to be spoken of in similar terms to the automotive ‘elite’, Gaydon is probably astute to leverage its most valuable nameplate. Additionally, Range-Rover needs to diversify away from pure-SUV offerings as it will become increasingly challenging to ford the regulatory strictures heading its way as the industry shifts towards electrification and outright autonomy.
It does however, raise a number of questions. Creating a new brand in ‘Road-Rover’ is a risky gambit if indeed this is their plan. A more pragmatic approach – and one I suspect will be adopted – would be to sit the model overtly within the Range-Rover umbrella. Another unknown is how the market will respond to a Range-Rover model that is patently not an SUV. Not that these are in any way insurmountable, but will require a deft touch nonetheless.
However, one issue that could necessitate considerably more delicate handling is that of JLR’s current road-focused nameplate. Whither Jaguar? Holloway’s report suggests that the forthcoming ‘Road-Rover’ will be twinned with the next generation XJ saloon, both of which will utilise an electrified drivetrain.
On paper at least, this dovetails with JLR’s current strategy of platform sharing, allowing the costs of development to be amortised over larger production numbers and differing offerings. Certainly, the business case for a stand-alone XJ model would be at best, tenuous.
However, it raises some disquieting questions over Jaguar’s longer-term future within the JLR group. Ralph Speth’s aim is to push the car maker’s volumes closer to a million vehicles per annum, giving them sufficient scale to weather what is looking like a very tempestuous short-term future, and protect them from likely predators.
It was initially believed that he would look to acquire a volume brand for this purpose, but the recent announcement that Tata have put aside $6.1 bn for the potential purchase of an additional luxury brand or technology partner suggests a somewhat different strategy.
The unavoidable likelihood appears to be that Jaguar will be pushed further downmarket, becoming their de-facto volume brand – (if indeed such a term could apply to the Jaguar name with anything akin to a straight face). With vehicles such as their latest (and overwhelmingly ordinary) compact CUV entering the market, this is a trend that can only gain (ahem…) pace. Especially as brand-Jaguar has failed to make a serious dent in the luxury saloon market with its current offerings.
For JLR to prosper in the medium to long-term it is being reshaped and refocused in ways previously unimaginable. We may not like what its once-immutable brands ultimately morph into, but that’s of little consequence now. It’s happening.