NEW YORK -- Land Rover is taking its largest vehicle, the LR4 in the United States and the Discovery elsewhere, and making a family of it.
The luxury SUV specialist said at the Geneva auto show in March that an expanded Discovery range would debut in 2015.
The second part of the story is unfolding in New York this week with the introduction of the Discovery Vision Concept SUV. The use of only the Discovery name on the concept suggests what some company executives have hinted: the LR4 name will be dropped in the United States.
The full-sized concept SUV unveiled here Monday evening at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum seats seven. The production version is expected to use Land Rover’s new lightweight aluminum architecture and feature a more appealing exterior and advanced interior.
The concept features pioneering technology under development by Jaguar Land Rover:
Laser headlamps that emit a very bright and even beam of pure white light, with extended range. Land Rover says it is the closest thing to daylight than any other form of artificial light.
Smart glass that is capable of displaying imagery -- like a computer screen -- but remains transparent like standard glass.
Smart gesture recognition control that recognizes designated hand or finger movements and can reduce the unintended operation of certain vehicle functions. In addition to passenger infotainment, simple gestures can be used to open and close the doors and tailgate, operate the lights and turn signals, control the rotary gearshift, and brighten and turn interior lighting.
Remote control operation at very low speed using a removable rotary device in the central console, a smartphone or a tablet. Land Rover says the remote control function would be ideal for coupling the concept to a trailer, avoid entering and exiting the vehicle to maneuver through a gate, and extreme off-road situations where an outside vantage point is more ideal to clear obstacles.
The LR4 has not been a sales hit in the United States, unlike the redesigned Range Rover Evoque, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport.
By building a range of Discovery models, Land Rover is expected to enter the highly competitive and growing compact crossover segment and market a worthy competitor for seven-seat crossovers to rival the Audi Q7.
Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s design director, said the “Discovery has been pivotal in helping to build the foundations of the Land Rover brand.
“We have created the Vision Concept to share the essence of Land Rover’s new age of Discovery and to debut a new, compelling, relevant design direction that connects on an emotional level with customers of today and tomorrow.”
More to the point, McGovern said that after dedicating considerable resources to retooling Range Rover in recent years, the company was ready to overhaul Land Rover -- starting with the Discovery.
As part of the new push, Land Rover said it has signed a long-term global partnership with Richard Branson’s commercial spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic.
The Discovery concept was shown on the deck of the USS Intrepid alongside a scale model of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, which is billed as the world’s first commercial spaceship.
Under the deal between two British icons, Land Rovers will be used to transport personnel and others at the Virgin Galactic test center in California's Mojave Desert, and at its operational base, Spaceport America, in New Mexico.
“We are on the verge of a new age of Discovery with modern new vehicles that will expand our business around the world,” said Phil Popham, group marketing director for Jaguar Land Rover.
The LR4 is due for a redesign. It’s tall, boxy and heavy at 5,655 pounds. Land Rover replaced the LR4’s 5.0-liter V-8 engine with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 for the 2014 model year. But combined city and highway fuel economy is only 16 mpg. The Q7, also powered by a 3.0-liter V-6, has a combined fuel economy rating of 18 mpg. It has a curb weight of 5,192 pounds.
The LR4 has a base price of $50,595 and the Q7 starts at 48,595. Both prices include shipping.
And here’s where the LR4 really falls short. Its U.S. sales fell 36 percent to 1,114 units in the first quarter. Last year, deliveries declined 3 percent to 7,093 vehicles. Total Land Rover sales in 2013 rose 15 percent to 50,010 units because of the popularity of the three Range Rover models.
Audi sold 15,978 Q7 crossovers last year, up 45 percent from a year earlier.