DETROIT: Even though its sale is being negotiated, Land Rover on Sunday unveiled a sleek new diesel-electric hybrid concept sport utility vehicle that could move the storied British brand into a whole new direction.
At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Land Rover showed off its LRX concept, which Phil Popham, managing director, said will get 50 miles per gallon of gasoline and still have all of Land Rover’s off-road capabilities.
The LRX is part of the company’s planned $1.3 billion investment in sustainable technology over the next five years, and it has been shared with all bidders seeking to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motor Co., Popham said.
“Our expectation is that if we are sold, the purchaser would be investing in the business based on the business plan that the board has presented to them,” Popham said after unveiling the white concept vehicle. “That includes the opportunity for this car.”
Earlier this month, Ford named Indian automaker Tata Motors Ltd. as the top bidder the two brands, placing the other two bidders, Indian automaker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. and U.S. private equity firm One Equity Partners LLC, on the back burner.
Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally said last week that he thinks the sale to Tata will take place in the first quarter of this year.
Popham said it would take three years for Land Rover to bring a vehicle like the LRX to market because of the technology involved.
The vehicle would be smaller and lighter than Land Rover’s LR2 SUV and would be more expensive with a premium exterior and interior, Popham said.
The current LR2 starts around $36,000.
The LRX would be powered by 2-liter turbodiesel and integrated electric rear axle drive, the company said. It could use electric drive alone at lower speeds and retain mechanical drive to all four wheels when needed, the company said.
Popham said Land Rover has to make sure there is demand for the LRX in the 147 countries Land Rover does business in before rolling it out.
“We’ve got to make sure if we are moving into a different segment with a different type of Land Rover, that we actually produce a vehicle that people want to buy,” he said.
Ford will not say how much Tata bid for the automakers, but in December people close to the negotiations told The Associated Press that potential suitors had submitted bids for both companies that ranged from $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
Cash-hungry Ford, which lost $12.6 billion in 2006 but earned $88 million in the first nine months of 2007, has been looking to sell Jaguar and Land Rover.
It has mortgaged assets to continue operations and expects to burn up $12 billion to $14 billion until 2009, when it plans to return to sustained profitability.
Ford bought Jaguar for $2.5 billion in 1989 and Land Rover for $2.7 billion in 2000.
Land Rover, Popham said, celebrated its best sales year ever last year, selling more than 226,000 vehicles.
Popham said as Land Rover celebrates its 60th birthday in 2008, the LRX “opens up a brand new chapter on our next 60 years.”