GAYDON, England -- Gerry McGovern, Land Rover's design director and chief creative officer, says he is not bothered by competitors copying the iconic SUV brand's design DNA. He's focusing his team on two major jobs ahead. Land Rover plans to introduce the next-generation Discovery next month at the Paris auto show. After that comes the next Defender, a vehicle with a rabidly loyal global following. McGovern, 59, spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett at Jaguar Land Rover's engineering center here.
Q: Have you noticed that Ford's latest SUVs seem to have many design elements -- headlights, taillights, grilles -- that look to be influenced by Land Rover?
A: When we were partners they were always very respectful of Land Rover design. In fact, [Ford's retired group vice president of global design] J Mays would be the first to admit it. When we'd start our global design reviews with all the different brands every three months, all the design directors for the brands would be there. The view when it got to us was: "You know what you are doing. We don't need to tell you anything." But there was also the view that if you saw something you liked, copy with pride.
When you realize that other companies are influenced by your work, does it put pressure on you to move designs further along?
No. I honestly don't think about it. In fact, I deliberately don't look at what other people are doing from a design standpoint. [Land Rover] has a DNA which emanates from a rich heritage and has all those ingredients. It's about presenting them in a way that is relevant. I think there are always going to be little resemblances. A car is a car at the end of the day; it's got to have lamps, doors, a windscreen and quite often people will draw comparisons. The most important thing is to try and do something that is relevant to the brand but is truly distinctive and compelling.
How do similar design elements take shape at different companies?
When we are in the process of designing a vehicle, we are not looking at what anyone else is doing. I suppose designers see things and they could replicate subconsciously certain elements. But part of my job is to spot these and say, "Hang on a minute ... " We've hired some new designers recently -- we are always looking out for new people as we grow -- and you get someone who's a really competent designer. For example, we've got new interior designers from Porsche and other brands. When you first look at their work, their proposals, you say, "That's great. But it ain't a Land Rover. It ain't a Range Rover. It's too Porsche. It's too this." But eventually they start to get that DNA developed in their minds and it starts to come through.
Does the upcoming new version of the Discovery give Land Rover an opportunity to move Range Rover further upmarket, perhaps to compete with the Bentley Bentayga?
I think Range Rover has in no way reached its ceiling in terms of price. As we make these [Discovery and Discovery Sport] more premium, it becomes incumbent on us to make Range Rover even more luxurious, and that is what we are focused on. But the difference here is that for me the Range Rover is sort of that exclusive vehicle. I don't think an optimized seven-seater is the right proposition for Range Rover, no matter what anybody says. That's Discovery territory. It's not to say you can't have a 5+2 on a Range Rover Sport.
If the Range Rover and Discovery also move upmarket, can some vehicles in the next Defender's family move into the Discovery's niche?
I think it potentially might take some Discovery die-hards to say, "I like the ruggedness of that. It's not designed. It's not styled." I think maybe [the next] Defender might appeal to those types of people.
What does the future look like for Land Rover?
We have a desire to grow the critical mass in terms of the volume of product. We need to in order to sustain ourselves and invest. It's a massive market. By 2020, over 25 million SUV-type vehicles are going to be produced. That growth of products is fragmenting into all types of niche opportunities. So you have to be flexible. We know who the customers are for these types of vehicles. But that doesn't mean to say we can't move things on and change things.