Wheels of fortune: Land Rover's Evoque has helped to boost a once-ailing brand

The Evoque divided opinion when it was released last year.

Four years ago it would have been hard to imagine that a money-losing Birmingham manufacturer that had endured five owners in 40 years (and was about to have its sixth) could become in a short period of time a great success story – turning a £1.5bn profit for its group, mentioned in the same breath as Apple for its design, and its Coventry-born designer turned into a "How To Spend It" centrefold.

Yet that is precisely what has happened to Land Rover after Indian giant Tata bought it (and Jaguar) from a cash-strapped Ford in 2008, and to its design director, Gerry McGovern, who now sits on the Jaguar Land Rover board.

So successful has it been that "every- one in the company wants to be a designer now," laughs McGovern, who "by placing design at the heart of everything we do" seems to have with just one model transformed Land Rover.

While the "small, light, feminine and urban looks" of the Range Rover Evoque, launched in June 2011, may not be to everyone's taste, they are certainly appreciated by the 80,000 people who have bought it (75 per cent of whom are outside the UK) as well as the judges who have garlanded it with more than eight major awards. Its success also no doubt contributed to last week's announcement that JRL is creating over 1,000 new jobs at its West Midlands plant.

More importantly for the future of the company, says McGovern, with "80 per cent of people who bought an Evoque never having bought a Land Rover before, it shows that we can produce new designs that can mean new things to new people" – whether in London, Beijing or Delhi. He admits, though, that "a few of our more traditional customers want to gun me down" – a sentiment doubtless encouraged by the Posh Spice Evoque Special Edition launched at Beijing's Auto China motor show in April this year.

Now his new cultural revolution is about to face its toughest test: the launch of the rest of the next generation of Land Rovers, from the flagship next-generation Range Rover in the autumn to his take on the 4x4 that started it all in 1948, the Defender, in 2014–15. "It is massive challenge but no one else is quite like Land Rover, so we will have a killer combination if we can continue to reconcile the production of the best off-roaders in the world with designs that are desirable and resonant with people today."

This isn't the first challenge that he has had to confront in his fight to transform a company world famous for "engineering-led design to one where design leads the engineering". For McGovern nothing illustrates this better than his battle to turn the Evoque LRX prototype into the vehicle that made it into the showrooms.

"We showed the LRX concept for the first time at Detroit and it really hit the spot, and then when we brought it back to the development centre our engineers instantly started talking about the changes that they would have to make it to maintain its 4x4 capability."

And in June, Land Rover engineers won the Royal Academy of Engineering's McRobert Award (the top UK engineering award) for the innovative engineering of the Evoque. For McGovern, these were the fights that he had to win. "Land Rover had become a byword for functionality, where all that mattered was capability. So that our design bible was full of things that came to make a Land Rover a Land Rover, such as a short overhang or high sill" – elements that were originally important for its 4x4 off-road capability. "And while I respect all that heritage, and understand the need to maintain the integrity of the brand in the modern world, we can't be trapped by it, as we need to create relevant, resonant products."

Key to this culture shift was getting "more joined-up thinking" by engineering, manufacturing and design based on "mutual respect for each other's part of the business" as well as "a common desire among them all to create desirable products that sell".

McGovern does admit that he has been helped by the market for SUVs fragmenting, a wider culture shift that has seen "design come of age", and an owner – Mr Tata – "who is keen to be involved in a supportive way".

David Leggett, director of automotive services at Aroq (publisher of motor industry bible just-auto.com), is sceptical of corporate-speak such as "culture of innovation", but he accepts that the Evoque has given the company a major boost. "They have managed to create the perception that Land Rover is a fashionable and up-market brand and have hit a demographic that has a lot of money and is attracted by this," says Leggett – even if they have been helped by market geography that has left them with few direct competitors.

"Ultimately, it was a canny buy for Tata as Ford had already done much of the hard work when they where in charge and so they have been able to turn what was a loss-making company into the main driver for growth in Jaguar Land Rover." And where Ford had run out of money, "Tata have funded a whole new product programme and become a very effective steward of the company, leaving the management to manage".

David Bailey, a professor and motor industry specialist at Coventry University Business School, puts their success down more to "R&D [research and development] innovation" than to marketing, as they have started to reach out to such companies as Williams for access to Formula One technology.

Like Leggett, Professor Bailey feels that this transformation can be overstated as under Ford "Land Rover had already started to make an operating profit". Unlike Leggett, however, who feels that Tata-owned Land Rover could be seen as a "car manufacturer in Britain," he argues that as Land Rover (and Jaguar) are responsible for 80 per cent of the UK's motor industry R&D expenditure, "it is the closest thing that we have to a Great British car company".

For Professor Bailey, the challenge that Land Rover now faces is that it "needs to do a BMW", by doubling sales from 300,000 to 600,000 in 10 years to ensure that the company has a long-term future. That is going to depend on a lot of investment in new models that are "all their own work" as well as facing up to the challenge to develop more energy efficient cars.

McGovern claims that the plans are already far advanced for the programme of new cars that Land Rover is betting its future on. While he admits that the Range Rover has been more difficult to design than the Evoque "as no one wanted it changed, just made better," the new Range Rover Sport that follows has been easier as he feels he has "more permission to stretch it further"; and a lot of the decisions have already been made for the new Defender that, like the DC100 concept shown last year, is going to be "thoroughly modern and utterly relevant".

"The opportunity is great. We are selling 8,000 Defenders a year now. We could be selling 100,000." Yet however much he claims that the success of Land Rover is "never about one person, it's about having the right level of shared vision and passion," that's just a little too hard to believe.

sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all