You might have thought, given straitened economic times and near-universal concern about global warming and oil supplies that expensive, thirsty SUVs and the companies that make them would be out of favour. But then you look at the recent financial and sales figures from Land Rover – a British marque that makes only off-roaders – and wonder if we’re all really as concerned as we say we are.
The Indian Tata Group’s purchase of Jaguar-Land Rover (or JLR) for US$2.3 billion in 2008 looked badly mistimed. The global downturn added to the pre-existing financial woes: Tata sought UK Government aid for its British outpost, and the closure of factories seemed certain, and of one or both brands not unthinkable.
But in the last financial year, JLR contributed an astonishing US$1.6 billion in profits to Tata’s coffers, with both brands posting strong sales growth. Land Rover provided the bulk of those profits, thanks partly to its popularity in emerging markets such as China where pockets are deep but roads are poor. An SUV makes perfect sense in such areas, and there’s little or none of the social opprobrium that European SUV drivers often feel.
And Land Rover has bounced back without the aid of significant new product: those profits have been made by the existing but excellent Range Rover, Discovery, Freelander and venerable Defender. But they will now be joined by a Land Rover like no other before: one whose styling and off-road ability make it technically an SUV, but which Land Rover hopes you’ll consider alongside style-conscious coupes like the Audi TT. And if it sells in the numbers the hype seems to suggest, next year’s profits will be even healthier.