Sales may have been off 4.8 percent last year, but Land Rover dealers had a pretty good 2003, reports Michael Levitan, chairman of the Land Rover Business Operations Council. And with an all-new Discovery set to arrive this year, he says dealers expect more of the same in 2004.
An exciting moment came last month when Land Rover unveiled its first concept vehicle in the company's 50-year history: the Range Stormer, a bright orange SUV with gull-wing doors designed to convey a sportier on-road look.
While the company says it has no plans for a Range Stormer production model, Levitan says dealers wouldn't be surprised if that changed.
Levitan is dealer principal of the Long Island Automotive Group, which has four Land Rover stores and two Jaguar stores. He has been with the group for seven years and has been dealer principal for two years. He previously had been dealer principal of a Volvo store.
Long Island Automotive Group is owned by Marubeni Motor Services, a publicly held trading company. Levitan also serves as its division president for the Land Rover and Jaguar franchises.
He spoke with Special Correspondent Karen Passino about the Land Rover brand and the issues facing the retailers who handle it.
How are dealers viewing 2004?
Everybody's optimistic that 2004 will be equal to or a little greater than what we had in 2003. Plus we have a new model coming out at the end of the year to replace the current Discovery. We are all looking forward to that. It's a whole new redesigned-from-the-ground-up vehicle. It's not the Discovery as we know it.
It's on its own platform, developed by Land Rover; it's not a Ford platform. The Range Stormer (concept vehicle) was put on the chassis of that vehicle. It also will be the platform for the (2006) "baby" Range Rover Sport.
What do dealers think about the Range Stormer concept vehicle?
I think we all believe that that vehicle could very easily happen. Maybe not with the (gull-wing) door configuration the way that it is.
I think it shows the way that Land Rover is going. It's still a rugged, off-road vehicle, yet the vehicle's on-road attributes will be world-leading as well, which we already see in today's Range Rover.
Every vehicle in your line doesn't have to (look like) a luxury vehicle. I think we are trying to appeal to broader masses.
What about the efforts to dual with Jaguar and to make over showrooms for each brand? How much of an issue is this right now?
It will be done in markets where it makes sense to do it. Nobody is forcing anybody to do anything. The Land Rover concept when it started was a great concept and continues to be a great concept. It makes sense when you have Jaguar and Land Rover stores in the same market owned by the same individual to put them under one roof - for synergies and (combined) back-end processes.
So Ford isn't giving dealers a deadline to do this?
Absolutely not. Nor is there a program in place to make that happen. They would like wherever possible to see it done because people that come in and acquaint themselves with either Jaguar or Land Rover might never have considered putting (the other brand) on their shopping list.
If you look at the brands together, we really are the sport-utility version of the Jaguar right now. But right now the processes that the Jaguar dealers use are different from those of Land Rover's.
We got here a certain way, and we will continue to do business that way. We have a process called the Land Rover Way, and Land Rover dealers won't let that die. Ford is not looking to change that process at all.
As someone who has both franchises on a single property (Long Island Automotive Group's Jaguar and Land Rover share a complex in Southhampton, but not facilities), do you think there will come a day when you will put them together?
I might. Right now, the campus doesn't really allow for putting them together. If I had Jaguar and Land Rover stores that were next to each other and that I could put together, and the economics worked, yeah, I would probably do that. But again, stand-alone stores do very well on their own, and they keep the focus of each brand going in the right direction.
How does your dealer council work?
There is a Land Rover Business Operations Council, which I chair, and a Jaguar Business Operations Council. Within those councils, there are management representatives from AMJLR (Aston Martin-Jaguar-Land Rover) that serve a dual role; the vice president of sales and marketing for the (AMJLR) group sits on both committees.
The dealers don't cross-pollinate. We don't have a Jaguar dealer who is not a Land Rover dealer on our council.
This year has been a nice change because I truly believe that we've gotten a lot accomplished - that we were able to sit down and talk about the programs that we have and the franchises today with an open mind, trying to make a difference. They're not going to fix all of our concerns, but it truly appears that the management of AMJLR is trying to do its best to listen to the voice of the retailer.