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(Bloomberg) -- Range Rover’s new Velar SUV will be the brand’s most road-friendly auto yet, allowing manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover to put the squeeze on top-selling models from BMW AG and Audi, JLR Chief Executive Officer Ralf Speth said Wednesday before the car was unveiled.
The Velar will be 20 centimeters (8 inches) lower than the traditional Range Rover, reducing the degree of roll or tilt when cornering and marking the model out as a true driver’s car, Speth said at the Design Museum in London, where the auto will make its public debut.
Priced from 44,000 pounds ($54,000), the Velar will fill the gap between the $42,000 Evoque, which debuted in 2010, and the Range Rover Sport, which sells from about $65,000 after a ground-up revamp in 2013. Aside from its handling, the model is characterized by a minimalist design and new dashboard with three touch-screen information panels or “plates,” Speth said.
“It’s a more car-like Range Rover, but still with SUV capabilities,” the CEO said in an interview. “It’s lower, but there’s a higher seating position. It’s also a modernistic design, very dynamic, and we have this plate technology, with the opportunity to shift the contents from one screen to the another.”
The Velar will compete with SUVs including BMW’s X5 and the Q7 from Volkswagen AG’s Audi arm, the CEO said. While he declined to comment on sales volumes, production could be running at almost 52,000 cars a year by 2019, according to analysts at IHS Markit, who estimate that Range Rover Sport output may fall below 70,000 units from 87,000 last year.
The Velar, which shares the same underpinnings as the Range Rover Sport and will be built on the same production line in Solihull, England, will come in diesel and petrol variants powered by JLR’s Ingenium engine. It could also be offered as a hybrid version, Speth said.
JLR’s Land Rover division, the original maker of rugged all-terrain vehicles, is seeking to fend off competition as other carmakers push into the burgeoning market for SUVs and crossovers, including the upscale Bentayga from Volkswagen’s Bentley nameplate and the Levante built by Italy’s Maserati.
The Velar is critical to reviving JLR’s profitability following a rapid expansion since a takeover by Indian carmaker Tata Motors Ltd. Its earnings for the nine months through December dropped 15 percent, which the company blamed in part on a weaker product mix and higher marketing spending.
Speth said he remains committed to replacing the original Land Rover Defender, without specifying when an announcement might be made. Production of the iconic model ended in 2016 after 68 years, and while the successor will be “more capable than ever,” according to the CEO, environmental restrictions mean that it might not be targeted at the same global workhorse role.
While the new Defender will be designed in the U.K., it isn’t certain to be built in the country, Speth said. Both the Solihull and Halewood factories are operating close to capacity, and JLR is building a lower-cost plant in Slovakia at a cost of 1 billion pounds.
Even with the introduction of the Velar, which gives Range Rover four models, led by the ultra-luxurious Vogue, Land Rover will still have gaps or in its lineup, Speth said, most notably in the Discovery brand, comprising the Discovery Sport, which began deliveries in 2015, and the redesigned Discovery 5, which was unveiled in September.
--With assistance from Richard Weiss John Ainger and Elisabeth Behrmann
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