At long last, Range Rover and Jaguar have found a common denominator in the sophisticated aluminum spaceframe technology recently introduced on the new XJ, and which will be shared with the next Range Rover (in 2012) and the follow-up to the Range Rover Sport (coming in 2013). Known internally as premium lightweight architecture (PLA), this weight-saving, rigid, cheaper to build and highly flexible components set later is also likely to spawn the follow-up to the XF (in 2014) and its still-to-be-determined derivatives, as well as the next-generation XK sports cars expected in 2013 at the earliest.
Although JLR is definitely on the right track, a number of crucial questions remain unanswered. Like how many different products they can derive from PLA; which price points are required to pay for its higher material, tooling and R&D costs; how many body styles each brand can support; whether it is possible to use this components set for new, lower-cost products such as the planned smaller sports car and, eventually, a modern replacement for the X-type; how adjustable the architecture actually is in terms of material content and dimensional flexibility. Can Jaguar-Land Rover mastermind PLA and the opportunities it offers all by itself, or do they need a partner, which would ideally also be a premium car manufacturer?
What further complicates matters is the fact that JLR must also look for assistance when it comes to sourcing future four- and six-cylinder engines, dual-clutch transmissions, more efficient four-wheel drive systems, and anything that has to do with hybrids and electromobility. Perhaps most pressing is Land Rover’s need to find a new partner other than Tata, which ranks at the very bottom of the prestige and image chart. While the Freelander-derived LRX out later this year should do quite well under the premium Range Rover umbrella, the next Defender and the joint replacement for Freelander and LR4 require strong additional genetic support. All this comes as Land Rover is in the process of reinventing itself. It needs to become more accessible as well as significantly greener; it must shed ultra-heavy and dynamically outmoded elements like the T5 platform (on which rides the LR4 and the current Range Rovers); it has no choice but to come down in price and go up in volume. The brand must introduce more on-road-focused, comfort-oriented, and user-friendly values to support the traditional hardcore off-road magic.