Land Rover took a giant leap in New York last night, unveiling a concept car vision of the new Discovery family and announcing a partnership with Virgin Galactic. The Discovery was revealed on the deck of the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier alongside Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo, the rocketship charged with making space tourism a commercial reality.
Land Rover’s SUVs will be the taxi of choice for budding, wealthy astronauts, attending Virgin’s New Mexico base for training and space flights. Phil Popham, Land Rover’s chief marketing officer, believes Virgin Galactic is an appropriate fit for the British 4×4 brand. ‘Land Rover’s heart beats “above and beyond” – we are pioneers on land and Virgin Galactic is the pioneer of space. It’s a very special match of brands with a shared vision,’ he said.
Officials say the partnership will start this summer, as Virgin’s final test flights are undertaken, before commercial missions follow. Don’t hold your breath though: British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson originally predicted his spaceline’s first flights in 2007, and three space trips a day from 2010.
The company claims to have taken $85 million in deposits from more than 700 wannabe astronauts, keen to experience around six minutes of weightlessness before gliding back to Earth. There are windows in SpaceShipTwo’s sides and roof to ensure a great view of the planet and any human structures visible from space, including – as the old joke goes – the panel gaps on an original Discovery.
Talking of the Discovery, the Vision Concept was unveiled by Land Rover’s chief creative officer Gerry McGovern. ‘Our success is based on creating truly desirable vehicles that resonate on an emotional level. This Vision concept marks the transition towards a new family of Discovery vehicles,’ he said.
The first of the new line – a smaller SUV to replace the Freelander – will be unveiled this autumn, but will it ape the Range Rover Sport’s design details as the Discovery Vision so obviously does, with its two-bar grille and front and rear lamps? ‘All these vehicles are Land Rovers and there’s a visual association among them all,’ chief exterior designer Massimo Frascella explained to CAR Online. ‘The wraparound lamps play an important role proportionally, reducing the concept’s perception of length. We’ve introduced Discovery in a more dynamic visual form, with a lot more attitude but maintaining the essence of Discovery.’
Traditional Discovery cues include the body-coloured C-pillar, the stepped roof with Alpine glass panel, the clamshell bonnet and black windscreen pillars. The minimalist body surfacing is reminiscent of Discovery 3, as is the hint of an asymmetric tailgate, though it’s in fact a one-piece hatch rather than split into two sections.
In the metal it’s a handsome, dynamic-looking vehicle, but it’s hard to understand why Land Rover’s Vision of Discovery is so similar to a Range Rover Sport’s. Insiders say Geoff Upex’s modernist Discovery 3 was a polarising design, so the next Discovery will instead tread a familiar – and successful – Range Rover design path. Executives clearly believe that blurring the lines between Discovery and Range Rover will attract more customers than it repels. They’ll end up getting the essence of the flagship Range Rovers at a lower price point, which sounds suspiciously like the opposite of Land Rover’s aim for Discovery – to make it feel more premium.