Everybody’s gettin’ down at the Disco, so Land Rover’s CCO gets his boogie shoes on.
Since Land Rover announced the current L462 Discovery last year, JLR and Land Rover’s Chief Creative Officer, Gerry McGovern have been batting away varying degrees of critical opprobrium over the vehicle’s rear-end styling – the Discovery’s offset numberplate positioning to be exact. A few weeks ago GMG expressed his defiance at the critical backlash associated with his creation, suggesting the problem was not of his making.
Speaking to Auto Express, McGovern made it clear that he saw no issue with the styling feature, instead suggesting LR dealers were at fault, saying, “You know what part of the problem is with that offset plate? It depends on what number plate you put on it. What we’re seeing is, and we’re going to rectify it, is a lot of our dealers are putting deeper number plates on the cars. And that compounds the problem.”
Discovery V was launched in 2016 and represents the biggest stylistic departure for the model since its inception, departing noticeably from the robust and rectilinear surfaces of its predecessors to a softer, less uncompromising form. The offending area of the tailgate was designed to reference the offset numberplate position which had become a Discovery staple, but its execution has been justifiably criticised as clumsy and unconvincing.
What this illustrates above all is the gulf that increasingly exists between styling and design. The asymmetric mounting of the rear plate on older Discovery models was a design solution dictated by practical considerations. On the new model, it’s simply another graphic element. Surface entertainment. Showbiz. What’s more McGovern knows it, although he tries manfully to cover his tracks.
“Overall, I like the design of the back of the Discovery for its asymmetry, because it’s tipping its hat to the Discoveries of the past. I think what’s happened is that there’s a whole variety of number plates. We’ve got a study going on at the moment and I don’t want to change that asymmetry, but we do need to do something about the number plates.”
While this is a neat line in papering the cracks, it simply won’t hold. McGovern asserts he isn’t bothered by the controversy, but the very fact he sees fit to defend his work suggests otherwise. Both he and his styling team have clearly got it wrong and furthermore, JLR management, blinded by their golden-boy’s persuasive powers and strong track record backed him. So while there is a germ of truth in his assertions, what we’re looking at here is an unconvincing attempt at brazening out a situation where retrenchment is the only reasonable option.
Because little short of a new tailgate pressing will resolve this problem. Here, McGovern has two choices. One is to reprofile the cut-out to allow for a centrally mounted rectangular plate, or alternatively, to deepen the offset pressing to incorporate a square plate – as was fitted to Discos of yore. Either way, it’s likely to prove an embarrassing climbdown from a man who up to now appeared as though he could do no wrong.
What it means for Land Rover’s polarising and often abrasive design chief will probably rest on how expensive a mistake this proves to be. My hunch is while it might take a little wind out of his sails, it probably won’t lead to an X351 XJ-style banishment to the Siberian tundra. Meanwhile for those of us on the sidelines, the best we can do is to register our continued interest in the ensuing drama.