Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Land Rover's new baby

By Peter Plisner
BBC Midlands Today transport correspondent

It has been described as a bold evolution of the traditional Land Rover design. It is stylish, very desirable, but crucially is the smallest and potentially the greenest car that Land Rover has ever made.

The LRX "concept car", designed at the company's HQ in Gaydon, Warwickshire, will get its world debut next month at the Detroit Motor Show.

Land Rover LRX
The new model will get its debut at the Detroit Motor Show

It is a small and sporty three-door vehicle, which the company says shows "a vision of its future", and is being unveiled just two years after the launch of the highly successful Range Rover Sport.

But unlike the Sport, which was primarily designed to appeal to those who wanted a high performance 4x4, the LRX appeals to a broader market.

The lower weight and reduced aerodynamic drag should allow significant gains on fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions.

There is also talk that, if it goes into production, the car will be sold with the option of a hybrid engine.

Land Rover's design director, Gerry McGovern, said: "It will appeal to a younger set of customers because it is very dramatic and very stylish, but will still have that core capability and level functionality that you'd expect to see in a Land Rover."

'Gas guzzlers'

The big question is, did Land Rover go green voluntarily or was it pushed?

The launch of the new concept car follows much adverse publicity about 4x4s being "gas guzzlers".

Regardless of ownership we need to look at how we're going to continue to broaden the appeal of Land Rover
Managing Director Phil Popham
There was also a high profile break-in at the company's Solihull factory by the environmental pressure group Greenpeace.

In addition to being smaller and lighter than previous models, the LRX will use reclaimed and recycled materials.

It clearly indicates Land Rover's commitment to reducing the environmental impact of its vehicles.

The company's managing director, Phil Popham says: "Absolutely it's looking at sustainability. It's looking at environmental awareness and environmental needs."

Land Rover has already embarked on a 700m initiative designed to make all its cars more sustainable in the future.

'Extend appeal'

It has recently announced the introduction of a system that allows the engine to be stopped automatically whenever a vehicle is stationary.

The engine restarts when the driver pushes down on the clutch pedal. It is also looking at other technologies including electric rear axle drive at low speeds.

The LRX is only the second concept car in Land Rover's history.

The Range Stormer was the first and it later evolved in the Range Rover Sport.

The new car has been designed primarily to test the future design direction of Land Rover.

Mr Popham added: "Clearly we want to determine what the car is going to be for us to really extend our appeal beyond the segment in which we compete today."

Sale process

The launch of the new concept car also comes at a time when the company, along with Jaguar, is being sold by owner Ford.

The sale process, which has been going on for several months, is believed to have entered its final phase.

The Indian car maker, Tata, is thought to be the front runner and an announcement is expected early in 2008.

Mr Popham said: "Regardless of ownership we need to look as how we're going to continue to broaden the appeal of Land Rover."

Nothing is being said officially ahead of LRX's public launch next month in the US, but there are already strong rumours that the new "baby" Land Rover could go into production as early as 2010.

It seems unlikely that any new owner will not want to push ahead with a project that has already reached such an advanced stage and that has so far had such a positive reaction from the industry.

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The LRX concept car on show



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