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Fixing Land Rover’s confusion

In 2024, I think Land Rover is more than a little confused.  In 2003, it wasn’t confused.  But I think the roots of the confusion began in 1948.

Back when the Series 1 Land Rover was created by Rover it was just “Land Rover”, but confusingly, made by the Rover company so it was the “Rover Land Rover”. Three problems; first, the second part of the name was also the maker’s name and second, there was a space between the two parts of the car name. Third, I guess nobody thought there would ever be any more Land Rovers, so when the second version was introduced it became the Series 2, and the original the Series 1. 

So we had “Rover Land Rover Series 1 and 2”, and then Series 2a, and 3.  Car names need to be clear, according to senior officials at car companies, for example Porsche 911, Nissan Patrol, Lotus Elise, Jeep Wrangler and Subaru Forester which are all single-word model names, nice and easy. At least with the Series you knew the 2a was newer than the 1, and not as new as the three.

Of course, worse was to come with the Range Rover in 1970, which was then the Land Rover Range Rover, as Land Rover was also now its own company, so we also had Land Rover Land Rover, which didn’t make much sense so in 1983-4 those vehicles were named 90, 110, 130, changing from Series which indicated development over time, to wheelbase. Because why not. Then in 1989/1990 the Discovery arrived, which amazingly didn’t include “Rover” in its name, so it was the surprisingly non-confusing “Land Rover Discovery”. But it did get called Discovery Series 1, Series 2, 2a. The 90, 110 and 130 were named Defenders, and the wheelbase tacked on the end. No more Series for them, and nor for Range Rover.

These were intelligent and much needed steps, but the Range Rover name been a victim of its own success, taking on a life of its own so people didn’t necessarily connect Range Rover with Land Rover.

The point is that confused naming has haunted Land Rover for all its life, and the Great Reimagination of 2022 was the latest attempt to straighten things out. Let’s also remember the Discovery 3 and 4 which indicated age, but that was dropped and now it’s just “DISCOVERY” so everyone calls the latest model either Discovery 5, or L462. And we call the latest DEFENDER the L663, to differentiate it from the previous models. Marketing people only care about the latest car, but in reality, we need names for older ones too.

Now let’s leave aside the naming and get to the actual vehicles, which made sense in 2003 as follows:

Land Rover brand value – practical yet stylish vehicles that offered real capability offroad, plus a combination of luxury, towing and practicality depending on the model.  The badge meant you could rely on it being the best in its class for whichever of those characteristics it aspired to be – the badge was your guarantee the car Could Do Things. Every vehicle had a charisma of quirky pragmatism, and each vehicle was distinct from the others in looks and purpose.

We had:

  • Freelander – the small, light-duty 4×4, you’d buy it if you didn’t need the capability of the bigger cars, but you wanted something that’d pull you through situations that would stop any other no-low-range 4×4.
  • Defender – built to carry heavy, bulky loads across very tough terrain economically and effectively. Compromised everything else to do that better than any other car, before or after. End of.
  • Discovery – a liveable, family version of the Defender; better onroad, more manoeuvrable, more mod-cons, seven seats.
  • Range Rover – the ultimate luxury 4×4, standing out from other luxo-barges by not compromising on offroad or towing capability.

Take a look. All very different, yet recognisably Land Rover.

Four vehicles, four very clear, very distinct purposes.  You wouldn’t expect a Range Rover to carry what a Defender could, you wouldn’t expect Discovery-level plushness from a Defender, and at no time in history has a Defender owner said “gosh I wish my car would lap the Nürburgring quicker” because no Defender owner wanted the Defender capabilities compromised by handling or onroad ride.

Now we come to 2024, and confusion reigns.  We have:

  • Defender 90, 110, and 130
  • Discovery Sport, Discovery
  • Range Rover Evoque, Velar, Sport and Range Rover

The four clear distinctions from 2003 have been lost, and that’s fine, except there’s nothing meaningful instead. If you’re going to leave something behind, you must be clear about what’s replacing it.

The Defender is no longer the offroad/carry/tow/overlanding king it once was. Instead it is an upmarket SUV with great on and offroad capability.  Okay, but isn’t that Discovery territory?  I think it is, because looks aside, where’s the difference now between Defender and Discovery?  We only need one car in that segment, but Land Rover has two.

The Discovery itself has morphed too.  In version 5, it’s lost the amazing second and third row split of the D3/D4, not all variants can tow 3500kg, the turning circle has increased, and the boot is less practical.  It’s not even significantly better offroad, and it’s now a hard sell against Everest, Land Cruiser, Prado and more, whereas back in the day you could see a lot of reasons to buy a Discovery 3 over a GU Patrol or LC100. Sure, it’s fine to leave behind the people who bought D3/D4, like me, but…where are you going instead? Nowhere, appears to be the answer.

Ask yourself; what is Defender today, and what is Discovery today? What are those cars trying to be?

The Discovery Sport occupies the same segment as the Freelander.  Except it isn’t differentiated from its myriad competitors – no longer is it the towing or offroad king in its segment, or the most practical. It’s just another ho-hum SUV in the most competitive sector in the world, offering no significant differentiator other than living off past glories on its badge.

Now for Range Rover, and here we have an example of taking a valuable nameplate and squeezing the life out of it for short-term gain. Evoque for example, one of the most beautiful cars to ever have been penned, but style aside, it doesn’t live up to Range Rover values of luxury, offroad and onroad.  The Velar is the answer to a question nobody asked, a shameless exploitation of the nameplate.  The Range Rover Sport I can get behind, it being a great combination of onroad and offroad, and at least the Range Rover itself is supreme, clear and unchanged in focus, remaining one of the all-time great vehicles.

So much for the confused range. Compounding the problem is that the modern vehicles look, and feel too similar, and somehow lack that pragmatic charisma that made their predecessors so loved.

Finally, we come to the names.  So now “Land Rover” is a “trustmark”, and we have the JLR House of Brands; DEFENDER, RANGE ROVER, DISCOVERY, JAGUAR.  This is an admirable but somewhat failed attempt to rationale the ancient naming confusion because it doesn’t complete the job:


“Absolute clarity” declared Gerry McGovern, and he’s right, this lineup doesn’t have it.  How can the Range Rover be a car, but also a Brand?  Do we say “that’s a JLR Defender” or do we just say “that’s a Defender”? Are the cars now so famous they don’t need surnames, like Kylie?

Is that not exactly the problem the Great Reimagining was meant to fix? Same for Discovery. The Defender nameplate is split three ways, unlike the others. And what the hell is a JLR?  Then we have the Land Rover Trustmark hovering or perhaps underpinning the whole lot.  If that’s absolute clarity, I need to clean my glasses.

Okay, so how do we fix this mess?  Glad you asked.

The answer depends on whether our horizon is five years or fifty.  If it’s five, then carry on as usual squeezing the droplets of credibility from Range Rover and Land Rover in pursuit of sales.

If it’s fifty, then we need to take a longer-term view, and that means looking at bit of history.

Why is the name Range Rover so revered?

It’s not looks. It’s not luxury. It’s not because it’s a good car, even though it is.

Because of its achievements.

Why is the name Land Rover so revered?

Same thing. Achievements.

Decades and decades of achievements creating a rich heritage which JLR/Modern Luxury is now harvesting, but doing absolutely nothing to plant the next field of achievements.

Here’s how it works.  Land Rover did things like explore the world.  Darien Gap.  Camel Trophy. Farmers relied on them. Expeditions. Vets. Working for councils. Rescue services. People saw that on TV, in books, films – and not product placement a la James Bond, doing actual work, earning respect. These achievements, big and small, cemented the brand as Cars That Did Something.  So, people like Jeremy Clarkson praised Land Rover for its achievements, even if they criticised the rest of the car. Top Gear did that incredible celebration of Land Rover. You knew the Green Oval meant something.

Now with that context we can consider our guiding principle.  At the moment, it’s “Modern Luxury” which directly competes with Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus et al, a crowded space. We need to be different.

So let’s make that “Adventure Luxury” which is different to the others and also plays on Land Rover’s strong brand. Speaking of which, JLR disappears and Land Rover comes back in as the overall marque.

Every Land Rover product must speak of Adventure Luxury, mixing pragmatic, practical utility with luxury, style and refinement. There’s your brief. No more fragrances.

Now let’s fix up the models.

Land Rover Range Rover. That stays, no change.

Land Rover Range Rover Sport. Stays, but needs more of a focus on onroad dynamics and towing, without compromising offroad. Sport has to mean Sport.

Velar. GONESKI. Buy a Jaguar F-PACE instead, a brilliant car with good offroad cred for its segment.

Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. Huge overhaul as it doesn’t presently deserve a Range Rover badge. Add air suspension, more power, more luxury, better towing, refined onroad dynamics with a focus on ride, and then it can stay. Pricey, yes, but nobody said Range Rovers are cheap. They are meant to be aspirational hero cars capable of Doing Stuff, not cheapie 2WD SUVs you cross-shop against better-speced Hyundais.

Land Rover Discovery. Bring back the D3/D4 seating. Increase cargo area. Make it a proper 7 seater like the D3/D4, and XC90 of old. Make it 3500kg towing across the range.

Land Rover Discovery Sport has to live up to the “Sport” part of its name, which presently just means “Small”. It will be similar to the Evoque, but focused on handling not ride. Add air suspension. Improve towing. More powerful engines, an actual sporting vehicle, kind of a Macan but for adventure people.

Land Rover Defender. Increase payload, increase towing to 3500kg all round. Forget onroad dynamics, focus on offroad, the only time I want to see that car at the Nurburging is if it’s towing a Range Rover Sport there for testing. Add 100mm to 110’s boot size, increase the 130’s wheelbase and add cargo room. Delete some luxury features but keep the premium feel. Give the driver back more control than CTR offers now.

JLR. Disappears, it can be the never-seen holding company or something if needs be.

As part of development, take all vehicles remote-camping for three weeks. Note feedback, modify design. Have all vehicles make unsupported crossings of the Simpson Desert, and Rubicon Trail. Note feedback, modify design.

That’s the design principles. Next, we need to create some Achievements so people value the Land Rover brand and begin to trust it.

  1. Loan vehicles to adventure YouTubers who will visibly Do Stuff With Them, thereby creating more Achievements – it’s important the vehicles are just there as a means to an end, not part of contrived stunts merely to show off the car, for example getting a stunt driver to race up a dam.
  2. Enter motorsports. Win Dakar, do some rallycross. Win XtremeE.
  3. Maybe a few PR stunts like Fastest Lap of the Nürburgring with a Caravan. But only a few. The Land Rover legend is built on Achievements, not Stunts. Nobody remembers stunts after a few months, but they remember Achievements. There are people driving around Camel Trophy replica Land Rovers even today, and they are cool. PR stunts never last over time.
  4. Bring back actual Land Rover driver training. Teach actual offroad skills. Huge, huge selling point. Make “I passed the Land Rover Test” a point of pride, not a useless bit of paper instantly discarded.
  5. Support various missions with cars, something Land Rover does already to some extent, such as Red Cross. There’s zillions out there needing 4x4s for their ecological, environmental, research work. Oh and listen to what they say.

Now will the Land Rover target audience ever do these things? No. But that’s not the point, they’ll revel in the fact the car can do it. Same way as people wear diver’s watches, and drive supercars only to the shops. They bask in what the thing can do, what it has achieved, even if they never use that potential. They will take pride in the brand.

Finally. Find whoever is responsible for low profile tyres, and have them summarily fired. Sure, fit 23s if you want, but every Land Rover should be able to fit 18s, and have a spare wheel. It’ll be a differentiator, bucking the trend, and oh my don’t marketing people love that!

I was kind of tempted to suggest Land Rover just approach Sir Jim and offer to buy INEOS Automotive, but on reflection, I feel it’s better that Sir J just meets the boss of Tata at some pub or other, and offers a bit of coin for JLR so this can be done properly. Maybe he’s just waiting for the price to drop so he doesn’t need to reach too far down the back of the sofa for spare change. One option could be to drop L462 Discovery, make the L633 Defender the Discovery, and rename Grenadier the Defender, but I think we’re too far gone now. Would have been a good idea five years ago.

There you go. Land Rover, fixed. You’re welcome.

Coming soon to my YouTube channel: the most comprehensive explanation and analysis of Terrain Response on the Internet. In the meantime:

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