Sitting on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid in Manhattan on Monday night, Land Rover’s Discovery Concept SUV previewed much more than just a future vehicle from the historically British brand.
It signified a major reorganization for Land Rover itself.
The automaker announced that the Discovery name -- previously used on a single model -- will now expand to become a range of vehicles. Similar to how Range Rover has always been Land Rover’s high-end, luxury-oriented sub-brand. Discovery will now be the volume-selling, family division.
“We announced at the Geneva Motor Show in March that the Discovery family is set to evolve,” Phil Popham, marketing director for Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement. “And it is apt that in the 25th anniversary year of the original Discovery that we preview how this evolution will take us forward into a daring new era.”
The Discovery Vision Concept that Land Rover debuted Monday night hints at the design and philosophical direction the sub-brand will take. The vehicles included in the new Discovery range will eventually replace the current Land Rover LR4 and LR2 SUVs.
Though Land Rover wouldn’t confirm it, the Vision Concept is likely a close look at the eventual replacement for the LR4. Both Jaguar and Land Rover have made a habit of displaying concepts that are very close representations of what the production vehicle will look like a year or two later.
Because it’s a concept, Land Rover couldn’t resist the urge to pack it with plenty of tech and gadgets that make for interesting conversation.
That includes a remote control feature that lets users drive the vehicle at very low speeds when they’re not actually inside it. Such a feature might be useful when hitching a trailer or maneuvering through tricky off-road terrain without a spotter, Land Rover said.
The doors, blinkers, and lights are controlled by simple hand gestures. Visible lasers map the terrain in front of the vehicle and project it as a contour map on the instrument panel, and can even detect the depth of a stream or river crossing. Cameras in the grille beam their image onto the heads-up display in the driver’s field of view, giving the impression that the hood in front is invisible.
But the configurable seating, which allows users to switch from the standard seating for seven, down to six, five or four seats, could reach production in some form. The concept also features a type of leather that can be washed in seconds, Land Rover said.
But Monday night’s appearance on the decommissioned Intrepid wasn’t the only news Land Rover had to share.
The automaker also revealed a new global partnership with Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s private company that hopes to be the first to offer commercial flights into space. On the deck of the ship, a scale model of a Virgin Galactic spaceship joined the Discovery in its debut.
“We couldn’t be more delighted to have Land Rover join us on our incredible journey,” Branson said in a statement. “It is hard to think of a brand which is more synonymous with exploration and adventure.”
While the partnership won’t see any Land Rovers orbiting the Earth in the near future, you will see them at Virgin Galactic’s New Mexico training facility and its test center in the Mojave Desert. The brand’s SUVs will also serve as shuttles for the well-heeled to make the short trek from the space terminal building to their spacecraft.
Land Rover’s first order of business in the new partnership was to bring a full-scale model of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise to the Intrepid, now a permanent museum anchored in the Hudson River.
The SpaceShipTwo replica joins a British Airways Concorde and the space shuttle Enterprise as the museum’s key aviation displays.
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times