I read today that the replacement for Land Rover’s Freelander will drop the model name and become part of a growing Discovery family. So far so simple – Land Rover already has a confusing brand and model name structure and that’s about to get much more complicated, with the reported intention to diversify its combined Land Rover/Range Rover offering to as many as 15 distinct variants. That could be stretching it a bit.
Time was when Land Rover meant the iconic Defender, now 65 years old and about to be retired in its current form. Then came the Range Rover, which originally had hoseable seats but now comes with ones which will massage you and competes with luxury limousines from Cheshire to China. And as it’s gone upmarket it’s become a brand in its own right. However, the car shares the brand’s name, whereas the models which have moved into the space underneath the flagship, the Sport and the Evoque, are separately identified. Meantime Land Rover’s Discovery has also become something of an icon.
So a strategy of rationalising a rapidly growing range into three model lines – Defender, Discovery, Range Rover – will make sense. It’ll also help maintain the integrity of brands which could be at risk of being diluted by the race for sales growth and the drive upmarket.
However, it doesn’t tackle the issue of an increasing overlap between the models. There is little, it seems, that the new flagship Range Rover does that the new Sport can’t do. At the same time the new Sport will have a seven-seat option which, combined the availability of a four-cylinder diesel engine, jars with its Sport tag – surely practicality should be the preserve of the Land Rover brand, where the Discovery already does practical-meets-cool. Even more so when the next generation, based on the Range Rover, will have the inherent quality at the top end to satisfy all but those who simply must have the Range Rover badge. There’s even talk of a seven-seat Evoque, a car whose success is based purely on style over practicality, to the extent of publicising that it was designed with the help of an ex-Spice Girl.
Of course Land Rover can charge more for products with the Range Rover badge and achieve bigger margins. But, especially when you have brands founded on integrity and now luxury, it’s a dangerous play to let sales growth and diversification steer the brand rather than the other way round.
Land Rovers and Range Rovers are fantastic products but there are few bad cars these days. Mainstream carmakers have introduced premium products, and premium brands have launched downsized models. An already super-competitive market has converged. As a result, brand differentiation and relevance has become the key to consumers.
Land Rover and Range Rover has always had more of that than any other car company. Its challenge now will be to preserve it.