Did the Series I Land Rover kick off the SUV segment in 1948?
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New Zealanders used to buy traditional passenger cars, leaving SUVs sitting on the sidelines of the sales lots. However, the coming of a new century saw a dramatic shift in our vehicle buying tastes.
These days, the SUV segment rules over the new vehicle market, leaving all other car genres to fight over the remaining 50 per cent of new vehicle sales.
At the forefront of this revolution you’ll find Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), a company that arguably kick-started the SUV segment in 1948 with the original Series I Land Rover.
JLR has been constantly leading the trend towards increased sophistication for the SUVs since, a process that took the crude-but-capable, go-anywhere vehicles of the immediate post-WWII period and refined them into family lifestyle vehicles as satisfying to drive on the road as off it.
Land Rover then took things a significant step forward with the original Range Rover of 1970, which not only introduced a new brand to the JLR portfolio; it established a new standard for comfort that all other SUV manufacturers had to conform to.
Fast forward 50 years, and you’ll find JLR still leading the herd, this time with Jaguar also offering its unique statements of what defines an SUV. Two of these new all-paw cats have won World Car of the Year (WCOTY) awards, with the Jaguar F-Pace taking the coveted gong in 2017, and its all-electric off-shoot, the Jaguar I-Pace, repeating that success in 2019.
Perhaps there is no greater example of the trend towards the increasing electrification of SUVs than the timeline established by these two mindset-breaking Jaguars and the briefness of the two-year gap between the occasions they took their WCOTY awards. That’s how quickly attitudes and vehicle preferences can change.
Given that SUVs are ruling car sales, it’s no surprise that all car manufacturers, from recent local market entrants such as India’s Mahindra to long-established brands here such as Ford, have rapidly expanded the numbers of SUV models they offer. However JLR is the SUV-maker that possibly offers the best window through which to track market trends, given that it has been an SUV leader for 70-odd years and has a heightened focus on technology and design as befits a stable of prestigious brands.
“The popularity of SUVs in the New Zealand market has been incredibly helpful for the growth of Jaguar in particular and for Land Rover to maintain its presence as the leading SUV of choice at the more premium end of the market”, says JLR’s New Zealand general manager, Steve Kenchington.
“For Jaguar, sales have experienced an increase of over 100 per cent since the launch of the F-Pace in 2017 and subsequent launches of the E-Pace and the EV I-Pace. Land Rover, too, has experienced double-digit percentage growth year on year thanks to the growth of the category but also having models with high-performance attributes.
“The emergence of the SUV as a contemporary offering has also assisted both brands. For a long time Jaguar and Land Rover were seen as classic brands with significant history. While this is true in part, the rise of the SUV has also allowed the brands to reposition themselves behind a new range of SUVs with significant technology enhancements.
“Jaguar’s success has also been enabled by the manufacturer’s ability to deliver a sports car inside an SUV’s body without compromising performance or handling. In the past there was always a compromise between practicality and performance, however this has been largely solved. As a result Jaguar loyalists are having little difficulty converting from sedan or coupe to SUVs where they would have been reluctant in the past.”
In New Zealand, the SUVs from JLR inhabit a broad swathe of pricing territory. Jaguar models are priced from $69,900 to $164,900; Land Rover stakes its playing field from $77,900 to $139,900; and Range Rover from $92,000 to $320,000.
This means the entry points to the ranges go grille-to-grille on purchase prices with the double-cab 4WD pickup trucks that represent some of the best-selling individual models on the Kiwi car market. The ability to not only match top sellers such as the Ford Ranger ute on price with vehicles that are more refined and comfortable, yet just as practical, has been the key to recent successes in the the JLR group’s SUV segment.
Kiwis’ love affair for the ute is levelling off.
“Intuitively there was always a bit of a question mark over the relevance of the ute, especially when we saw many drivers adding canopies and essentially converting them into a family and multi-purpose SUV,” says Kenchington.
JLR broke through the 1000 annual sales ceiling back in 2016, a year before the new Jaguar SUV programme began to roll into New Zealand showrooms with the F-Pace.
Significant sales increases have occurred over the ensuing years, thanks to the expansion of the New Zealand dealer network, and the way that some models have hit the sweet spot with hundreds of Kiwi car buyers. The Range Rover Sport has recorded a 75 per cent increase sales for each of the past three years.
The R-R Sport is such a compelling buy because its design can be immediately recognised as being derived from the original R-R of 1970. But under the trad-yet-sharply-tailored clothes there’s been a huge lift in the vehicle’s technology. Powertrain choices are wide-ranging as are the vehicle’s multi-tasking abilities. There’s the choice of diesel, petrol and plug-in hybrid powered models. Next year, a fully electric version will be available.
Then there’s the more futuristic design of models such as the Range Rover Evoque and Velar, and the Jaguar F-Pace/I-Pace siblings.
SUVs used to be boxy-looking vehicles that did little to hide their military origins; but these JLR lifestylers look like they’ve escaped from the set of some
This diversification, as personified by the JLR SUV range, is the key to the ongoing appeal of the Sports Utility Vehicle to New Zealand consumers.
These are vehicles built to perform artfully upon every occasion — from carrying the bride and groom away from a family wedding, to dirty work such as extracting the boat from a weed-infested lakefront or clambering up a steep track to a favourite hunting spot.
Little wonder then, that we like them so much.