Premier Automotive Group Chairman Wolfgang Reitzle has vowed to recapture the aid market for Land Rover. The British 4x4 brand has seen its share of the world aid market slump from 80 percent in the 1970s to as little as 5 percent in recent years.
Reitzle told Ford insiders recently that he intended to 'take Africa back' for Land Rover.
As recently as the late 1970s or early 1980s, Land Rover was the vehicle of choice for aid organizations such as the United Nations, Oxfam and the Red Cross. There was even an old saying that, for 70 percent of the world's population, the first vehicle they saw was a Land Rover.
But Land Rover's share of the market has slipped badly in recent years. In the late 1970s, Land Rover held 80 percent of the aid market, according to Ken Slavin of Slavin Partners, a Louth, England-based consultancy that serves as a liaison between vehicle manufacturers and aid and government organizations. That market share has now plunged to between 5 and 8 percent as Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi have usurped Land Rover's once dominant position.
Ford's Premier Automotive Group acquired Land Rover from BMW earlier this summer.
Land Rover engineers are at work redesigning Defender, the brand's signature vehicle and the one most often used in aid situations. Last year Land Rover showed the SVX concept, a rugged off-road vehicle in the same vein as the Defender.
Slavin, also author of a history book called Land Rover - The Unbeatable 4x4, says Land Rover has much work to do to regain its share. Competition has never been so intense, he said.
The market is only about 40,000-70,000 vehicles a year, but its importance goes far beyond mere numbers.
'If you look at Formula One racing, the aid market has similar benefits for manufacturers,' Slavin said. 'In the present crisis we're having with the environment and global warming, the motor industry takes a hammering. When you have disasters, you need 4x4s. There's nothing better for a 4x4 vehicle than to be seen with an emblem that says United Nations or Oxfam or the World Wildlife Federation. That's worth a lot of money to any manufacturer.'
A host of reasons contributed to Land Rover's decline in this crucial segment, Slavin said. Poor quality and product recalls eroded Land Rover's once bulletproof image. In recent years, Land Rover also suffered from problems with distribution of both parts and vehicles. That was because Land Rover relied too much on too many independent distributors, in sharp contrast to Toyota. Toyota distribution is centralized, and the brand now dominates the aid world with about 57 percent of the market.
'Whenever (Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein moves, you see Toyotas and Nissans on television,' said Slavin. 'It should be a Land Rover or Ford Explorer.'
Land Rover spokesman Gavin Green said the company is aware of the aid market issue and its importance. But Ford only took ownership of Land Rover from BMW on July 1, so the new managers haven't had time to finalize a plan, he said.
Slavin believes Land Rover needs to pay attention to Ford's customer-oriented philosophy
He said: 'What Land Rover has to do is listen to the customers. It's a good product. It just needs a kick in the backside.'