Since the 1970s, Land Rover has been the “safe bet” of the British Leyland group. The success of Land Rovers around the world allows, year after year, its owner to get good margins. Under these circumstances, why bother? The English group is doing poorly and any economic development is welcome.
But competition, especially Japanese, does not keep both feet in the same shoe. In many markets, the success of the Toyota Land Cruiser is causing Land Rover to wobble dangerously off its footing.
Until now, Land Rover enjoyed a semi-monopoly on the overall 4X4 market. But things were changing, as Nigel Garton, formerly of Land Rover, recalls: “The engineering team felt that we were going down the wrong path. Our competitors were now flooding the market with small cars such as Daihatsu, Suzuki and Toyota. They were making these cars cheaper and more accessible. And we were nowhere.
Moreover, it is an unprecedented crisis in oil-producing countries such as Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. From one day to the next, sales collapsed, in markets historically bought by Land Rover.
It must be touched
Meanwhile, Land Rover introduced a five-door version of its Range Rover in 1982. Over the years, the Range became more and more chic, creating a hole in the range.
The Isuzu Trooper, Mitsubishi Pajero, Jeep Cherokee, or some Nissan models find themselves without competition in the Land Rover. The Defender, a real 4X4 crossover is very rustic, while the Range Rover has become luxurious and expensive.
The only solution: to develop a third line of vehicles, whose task will be to attack the Japanese head-on.
The Simplest Row
The project, christened “Jay”, began at the end of 1986. The definition referred to the base Range Rover, with simplified dimensions and a more adventurous style. In order to fund this program, along with that of the new Range Rover, the brand must maintain significant savings. Land Rover is closing its 13 factories worldwide, focusing all production at a sprawling site in Solihull, England.
In March 1987, the “Jay” project even received a new line of credit made possible by the successful launch of the last line in the United States. In addition to the nearly identical running gear to the Range, the new car uses its own V8 engine and gearbox.
The diesel variant, the 200 Tdi is manufactured by Land Rover. It remains to find a name for it.
The names Highlander or Prairie Rover remain in contention until the end. But ultimately it is the Discovery that will be chosen at home automatically. When Discovery makes its public debut in Frankfurt, the stakes are high: This discovery must ensure the company’s survival into the 21st century, against the Japanese.
On the stand, Chris Woodark, Land Rover’s Business Director summarizes the position of the Discovery: “It is a recreational vehicle that is not intended at all for the luxury sector. Discovery is for Yuppies, Range Rover for those who are already successful. »
It was originally offered as a three-door only, so as not to overshadow the Range Rover, Discovery’s surprise successor. In early 1990, the first development arrived, with a V8 engine and the long-awaited arrival of the five-door model.
Discovery is growing
The history of the Discovery of the first generation is also marked by the famous Camel Trophy. Discovery will be the invasion vehicle between 1990 and 1997, which will further strengthen its image as a sponsor.
In 1998, Discovery underwent a major overhaul, enough to say about the second generation. The TD5 engine bolsters the lineup while the V8 now has 4.0 liters of displacement.
The chassis has also taken a big step forward using the ACE (Active Cornering Enhancement) system. This electronically controlled anti-roll bar system overcomes the Discovery’s main flaw: its cornering handling, a result of its high traction threshold.
Today, the Land Rover Discovery is still on sale, after four generations. Not only did it allow the brand to pass the milestone of the 21st century, but it knew how to respond to Japanese rivals, by improving the Land Rover version.
More modern than the Defender, less luxurious than the Range Rover, the Discovery has kept the DNA of the brand, preserving the essential: its ability to drive on any terrain.