recently announced plans to hire 1,000 additional factory workers at its plant in Halewood, England. The brand says the move is in response to demand for its Range Rover Evoque
and Freelander 2 CUVs.
On its own, this isn't a big deal. Factories add or subtract workers all the time, and while 1,000 individuals is significant, it's far from extreme. The Halewood plant currently employs nearly 3,500 people; an additional 1,000 employees represents a 28 percent gain, or roughly the kind of addition that comes when a relatively small factory adds a model to its line. The key here is what this might mean for Land Rover.
When the Range Rover Evoque -- Range Rover
, remember, is a Land Rover sub-brand, sold at the same dealerships -- was introduced in 2011, it was heralded as a landmark. This was the first time, company reps said, that Range Rover had something appropriate to offer a younger, more modest customer. It was, and is, a decent point. From the standpoint of price and glamour, the Evoque slots in beneath the LR4
-based Range Rover Sport
but above the unsexy Land Rover Freelander/LR2. It's meant to bring new customers to the brand, and if sales numbers are anything to go by, it seems to be doing the job. It's proving to be exactly what the oft-struggling British marque needs.
If you've been paying attention, none of this is a surprise.
As a brand, Range Rover is an odd duck. Unlike Land Rover, its true brand image -- how customers perceive it, as opposed to how marketers want them to perceive it -- doesn't vary from market to market. Land Rovers have long been blessed with the always-fashionable quality of extreme capability. As such, they're used as farm vehicles in Wales, luxury runabouts in London and soccer-mom machines in America. Range Rovers, by contrast, are just big, cushy trucks, the Lexus
to Land Rover's Toyota
. They're capable off-road, but you don't buy one because you want to chase lions across the veldt. You buy one because you like Fancy -- and can afford it.
The problem is that you cannot keep a company's lights on, even a company within a company like Range Rover, through Fancy alone. Jewelry stores don't survive by selling only $50,000 rings, and car manufacturers don't stay profitable by catering solely to 1 percenters. Even Ferrari
stagger their offerings, spanning a wide range of pricing and intended use. (Rich? Buy a 458 Italia
. Richer than Croesus? F12 Berlinetta
This, predictably, is where the Evoque comes in. The Range Rover -- and here I'm referring to the model, not the marque -- has always been the most predictable of Land Rover's offerings; the steadiest, if not strongest, seller. The model developed to accompany it -- the smaller, cheaper Range Rover Sport -- was a success largely because it offered 90 percent of the larger model's swagger at a significantly lower price.
According to Land Rover product planners, in pre-Evoque days the goal was to use the Range Rover's prestige to bring additional Land Rover customers into showrooms. The glitz of the more expensive model would rub off on the less expensive trucks, and people who couldn't afford a Rangie would roll out in a new Discovery
. That didn't work, largely because of one thing: People who want a Range Rover want a Range Rover, not a Land Rover. They're not going to settle, they're just going to go buy a used Range Rover or, worse, a car from another brand.
Only now they don't have to. The Evoque exists; it's priced at around $44,000, beneath the Range Rover Sport, and it's selling well. Sales reports indicate it's not selling as well as Land Rover would like you to think -- 715 Evoques were moved in America in February, compared with 1,091 Range Rover Sports (and the Sport is basically a 7-year-old model) -- but that's immaterial. It's moving, and people want it.
Why do people want it, you ask? Simple: It's a Range Rover that offers most of the glam of larger Range Rovers but in a cheaper, smaller, more fuel-efficient package. It's relatively fast but, with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, also relatively frugal. It's also stylish and gives the appearance of being built well, even if it isn't.
Crucially, unlike the slow-selling Freelander/LR2, the Evoque doesn't look emasculated or inexpensive. And because it focuses on paved-road usability and style above all, it's perfect for how people actually use SUVs and CUVs, not how they want to use them.
Pundits scoffed at the Evoque when it hit the auto-show circuit a few years ago, saying it diluted the brand. So be it -- people said the same of Porsche
with the Cayenne
, or BMW
with its X5
, and look where those ended up. The Evoque is a perfect example of where the luxury industry should be going. Expensive machinery should be aimed at the people who actually buy expensive things, not the people who think about buying them. Last time I checked, most full-time pundits don't drive Land Rovers.
[Source: Land Rover; sales numbers via Automotive News]
Sam Smith is a journalist, a Southerner and a reformed Alfa Romeo mechanic who spends most of his time mooning over ancient racing cars and small-batch bourbon. A multiple International Automotive Media award-winner, he has written for Automobile Magazine, Car and Driver, and Esquire, among other publications. He once drove 4,000 miles in a weekend for a hamburger and has been threatened by the German police only twice.