IT IS not a case of if, but when Land Rover will build its smallest off-roader. The LRX Concept was shown at the Melbourne Motor Show last month and Land Rover flew in its chief designer Julian Thomson for the presentation.
He said the four-seater LRX “cross coupe” would go into production in three to four years and would look very similar to the show car.
The LRX is smaller than a Freelander and features a rising waistline, no B pillar, a space-age interior with LED lights in the carpet which is made from recycled drink bottles, and it is powered by a hybrid electric/bio-diesel powerplant.
“The exterior is close to what we will have in production – the mirrors will have to be bigger – but much of it will go into production,” Thomson said.
“Car design is really flourishing and the market is much more open to new designs, but customers want production cars to be like concept cars.
“The real skill of doing concept cars is that they are deliverable.
“I could have put 24-inch wheels on this but it’s not going to happen.
“We ultimately want to make this car and don’t want to create unrealistic expectations.”
Thomson said the LRX addressed what Land Rover will look like in the future. “We want to get more young, urban and female customers to the brand.”
Thomson is head of advanced design for Land Rover and Jaguar for all vehicles beyond 2011, so he will determine how these iconic British brands will move into the next decade.
“They’re very different brands; the product lines are pretty different and the bosses are very different,” he said. “They are two very emotional brands. We want to continue that and not stuff it up. They are both steeped in rich history and customers want to be part of that history.”
The 1982 graduate of the British Royal College of Art – “the best design school in the world” – worked first for Ford in the UK, helped design the Lotus Elise, worked for VW and Audi in Spain, moved to Jaguar in 2000 and added the Land Rover design brief last year.
His first task has been the LRX, which Thomson stresses will not be an entry point vehicle for the brand, even though it is smaller than the Freelander.
“Land Rover is a premium company and this is a premium car,” he said.
“It looks at how we face up to the challenge for the brand under a lot of pressure from climate change issues.”
While the powerplant is yet to be decided, Thomson said the LRX took future green alternatives into consideration.
“For example, you have to think about where we put the batteries for the electric motor; that was a particular challenge,” he said.
“This is a car that would be suitable in London (where cars are charged an entry fee based on greenhouse gas emissions).”
Land Rover Australia boss Roger Jory said that it depended on customer feedback whether Australia would get the LRX.
“We would have to have a business case for it; we need to do the numbers first,” he said.
“This is a whole new area of the market that Land Rover could get.”
During the interview Thomson said he was living a childhood dream. “I always wanted to be a car designer,” he said. “I used to draw cars in the margins of my books at school and never grew out of it.”
Dressed in a conservative, but very modern dark pin-striped suit with open-neck business shirt, he reflects the conservative but modern approach he has adopted for the traditional British brands.
“My influences can come from anywhere, from architecture to clothes,” he said.
Under his stewardship, Jaguar and Land Rover will become more modern, while trying to retain the traditional values of the brands.
“For example, there won’t ever be a two-wheel-drive Land Rover,” he said.
“It is a Land Rover and it is about off-road so it has to be a 4WD.”
But he won’t be dabbling in much retro design.
“You can be a bit over-retro which is cartoonish. It doesn’t work very often.”
He considers the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML as good SUV design.
“But ours are the best. Ours have history and are less generic.”
As for Jag, they are “fast and beautiful cars”.
“They should always be the best looking and best driving cars,” he said.
“Saloon cars are more difficult to design because they are a conservative vehicle, while sports cars are easier because they are so expressive.”