DETROIT - Jac Nasser and Wolfgang Reitzle are building what could become the next hot franchise duo, and believe it or not, both makes are British: Land Rover and Jaguar.
'They fit together in a showroom very well and are complementary within the family of luxury brands,' said Ford CEO Nasser. 'It's not going to be everywhere, but where it is useful, this will strengthen the strategy.'
Land Rover will become a bigger player in the United States as a Ford Motor Co. brand.
Land Rover will join the Premier Automotive Group, Ford's luxury unit. Premier wants Land Rover to boost sales, lend off-road expertise to other Ford brands and find product-development efficiencies.
Last week, Ford said it agreed to buy Land Rover, BMW AG's sport-utility maker, for $2.9 billion.
'It is our intention to leverage Land Rover to its fullest potential,' Ford CEO Jac Nasser said.
Making more of Land Rover falls to Reitzle, head of the Premier Automotive Group. Ironically, Reitzle, when he worked for BMW, argued against BMW's purchase of the Rover group six years ago. But BMW made him chairman of the Rover group. Now, Land Rover is back in his portfolio.
Ford hired Reitzle, BMW's former product development chief, a year ago to oversee Jaguar, Volvo, Lincoln and Aston Martin.
Ford already has a solid idea of how Land Rover will fit. For example, Land Rover may become the in-house expert for off-road technology globally, Nasser said. That would mimic Volvo's role as the company's leader in safety engineering.
Land Rover sold 29,380 vehicles in the United States and about 200,000 worldwide last year.
The Premier group is encouraging consolidation of its Lincoln, Volvo and Jaguar dealership. The vehicles will not be side by side on showroom floors. Instead, they will be in separate showrooms under one roof or in separate dealerships on a single campus.
Ford also envisions product-development savings.
'The possibility for savings through purchasing, overhead, economies of scale and sharing technology and major components across Lincoln, Volvo and Land Rover is substantial,' Nasser said.
One key issue is how Ford will untangle Land Rover's product development from BMW. Ford gradually will shift Land Rover's development and component engineering to the Premier group.
But BMW's fingerprints will remain on Land Rover vehicles for some time, Nasser said. For example, the upcoming Range Rover model, due next year, will be engineered and developed by BMW. The new Range Rover and a redesigned Discovery, due around 2002, are to be powered by an eight-cylinder BMW engine, Land Rover dealers said. BMW also was considering a top-of-the-line Range Rover with a 12-cylinder BMW engine, dealers said.
Under BMW, Land Rover was poised to increase sales in the United States by introducing fresh products in the next several years.
For example, U.S. dealers expected to begin selling Land Rover's newest and smallest sport-utility, the Freelander, in the 2001 calendar year. The vehicle is expected to generate sizable volume by competing with such luxury sport-utilities as the Lexus RX 300.
Dealers also hoped for the U.S. return of an all-new Defender around the 2003 calendar year. The Defender dropped out of the U.S. line after the 1997 model year because it lacked passive restraints. It is sorely missed by dealers as an image maker.
Nasser said the Freelander will be sold in the United States but did not guarantee the arrival of the Defender.
'The Freelander, we're going to look at how quickly we could bring that to the United States market,' Nasser said. 'We think it's within a couple of years, or maybe even earlier. The Defender, I don't know.'
Land Rover dealers contacted by Automotive News generally viewed Ford's purchase favorably, noting Ford's careful stewardship of Jaguar.
Discussions between Ford and BMW had been going on for the past few weeks, Nasser said.