An exciting new product and improved quality control are two top priorities for Land Rover as world economies start to come out of recession. Phil Popham, Land Rover's global managing director, says that one of the most exciting launches will be the much-anticipated LRX, a compact, five-seat SUV that was first unveiled to Middle Eastern journalists as a concept car in London in November, 2007. The production version of the LRX will be rolled out in the second half of next year.
According to Popham, the production LRX will be very close in "design intent, premiumness of the car, engineering feasibility, performance and refinement" to the concept. "It will be the closest to the concept car as can be engineered feasibly. "It will be the smallest Land Rover, the lightest and the most fuel-efficient but it will still have the greatest breadth of capability and be very competitive off-road."
Robin Colgan, the managing director of Jaguar Land Rover Middle East, is confident the LRX will be a success in the region. "If you walk down the size scale [of SUVs], you won't find another compact vehicle with this level of luxury," he says. "I don't think it has any competitors - it will appeal to buyers looking for a premium saloon, a two-seater sport car or an SUV." Popham says that 2009 was a tough year for Land Rover, with a 22 per cent drop in sales at the start of the year, but a 20 per cent increase for last year's Q4 over the same period in 2008 is an encouraging sign that the company is emerging strongly from the global economic downturn. He also says the Middle East continues to be an important market for the brand's future.
Colgan adds that, while growth slowed in the Middle East last year, "the market is full of car enthusiasts who know more about the product than we do", and he is confident the loyal buyers will remain faithful to the brand. "Recovery isn't necessarily the right word," says Popham. "Stability in established markets and growth in developing markets are what we are trying to do. We took some quick, decisive action so we'd be in a position first to survive and then to position ourselves to exploit opportunities through new products on emerging markets."
The main action taken by the company was to ensure "ideal levels of stock" rather than allow distributors to have an oversupplied inventory. Colgan says this is definitely the case in Middle East showrooms. "We have a three to four month waiting list after two months of constrained supply," he says. "It is early days but the response on the stand [at the Dubai Motor Show] to the new products was strong, the outlook is good, but we need a few more months to see if we again have a sense of stability."
Popham also cites the purchase of Land Rover by the Indian automotive giant, Tata Motors, as an important factor in ensuring the brand survives. "Tata's timing was very difficult, when they took over on the second of June, 2008 - the recession was deepening, it was a long transition period, but they are focused on stability in the long term." Quality control issues that have plagued Land Rover, with less than flattering results in the JD Power surveys since 2001, have also been addressed, according to Popham. JD Power surveys have given Land Rover products consistently high scores for performance and design but the scores for reliability have always been lower.
"We have come fifth out of 38 for sales satisfaction [in JD Power surveys] and we have been near the bottom of the pile [for quality] in the early years, but we have sat down with JD Power and looked at the areas that needed to be addressed," he says. "When we identify problems in the field, our engineers will get to understand what is going on and fix it." Land Rover's campaign to produce more reliable vehicles has taken the company's car tester to Dubai for hot weather testing and Russia for cold weather testing.
"We have permanent test engineers now based in Dubai and we increase the number of engineers to test the vehicles in the worst weather from April and May onwards," says Colgan. "We want to certify that our vehicles will work at the highest temperatures - we take them up and down Jebel Hafeet, to the Dubai Autodrome for fast laps, over big sand dunes, and our objective is to destroy the vehicle, figure out what failed and fix it."
"If our cars can survive Russia and the UAE, they can survive anywhere in the world." firstname.lastname@example.org