|Diana T. Kurylko covers various U.S. import brands for Automotive News.|
NEW YORK -- With three new or redesigned models in three years, Range Rover is poised to grow in the U.S. market and better compete with rival vehicles it couldn't take on before.
Range Rover is the more upscale brand of the two SUV/crossover brands -- the second is Land Rover -- that Land Rover North America markets here.
The newest redesign is the Range Rover Sport, smaller than the Range Rover but now sitting on a lighter aluminum architecture that company executives say makes it more nimble and better handling on the road.
The Sport is 800 pounds lighter than today's model thanks to the new platform it shares with the larger and more expensive and redesigned Range Rover. It debuted at the New York auto show this week.
Kim McCullough, brand vice president for Land Rover North America, says the 2014 Sport with improved agility and road feel can now take on luxury rivals such as the BMW X5, Audi Q7 -- and even the sporty Porsche Cayenne.
The Sport, like all Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles, was always extremely competent off road. But for most drivers -- especially in the New York metropolitan area, which is the Sport's biggest market in the United States -- on-road performance is what counts, McCullough says.
The Sport's other new important attribute is what McCullough calls the secret seats -- the two seats in the third row that can accommodate children, teens and adults, provided they're not the size of professional basketball players. The seats fold flat when not in use.
McCullough expects about 20 percent of Sport buyers will want the optional third row. The X5 and Q7 already offer third-row seating.
The 2014 Sport goes on sale in late August.
The Sport's redesigned big brother, the Range Rover, went on sale in December and is already sold out for four months, McCullough says.
The smaller brother, the Evoque, debuted in the fall of 2011 and is selling well at a rate of 1,000 vehicles a month, McCullough says. Last year, 8,901 units were sold.
But more important, she says, is that about 80 percent of Evoque buyers are new to the brand. Plus the average transaction price is $53,000 for a vehicle with a base price of $42,040. All of this means sales will continue to grow and outpace the market, she says.
U.S. sales of Range Rover and Land Rover vehicles rose 26 percent to 8,105 vehicles in the first two months. Last year, Land Rover/Range Rover volume rose 15percent to 43,664 vehicles.
Says McCullough, "There is a lot of momentum with the brand and retailers are feeling it in a good way: We want more product."