The £800M R&D commitment from Jaguar Land Rover to invest in new sustainable technologies staggeringly represents a third of the entire current UK automotive R&D spend.

Recognising shifting market demands, the company has been concentrating its efforts on developing vehicles that are more fuel efficient, lighter and have a smaller impact on the environment. Take its Freelander 2, for example. Stop/Start technology was adopted for the vehicle, improving its CO2 emissions by around 8% and delivering 42 miles per gallon. It now accounts for half of all sales.

But now the company is going one step further. Next year, the as-yet-unnamed new small compact Range Rover goes on sale. For the first time, the company is offering its leading SUV in a two-wheel drive format. It’s a huge departure for the company whose success has been built on a strong brand centred on exciting four wheel drive cars.

“We remain committed to leadership 4WD,” managing director Phil Popham was quick to point out. “We are simply extending our reach, brand appeal and customer responsiveness, to add a 2WD option.”

The new vehicle will emit less than 130g/km of CO2 and it will be the lightest, most fuel efficient Range Rover ever built. It has been a costly and lengthy process, but by improving the efficiency of its powertrains and making the vehicles lighter, it is creating some important new products that it hopes will become the biggest sellers in the near future; in fact, that ambition has been written into the business plan.

In 2008, the 2WD share in Europe was around 14%. That rose to 22% last year and until now Land Rover has struggled to meet that demand. Recognising that many of its loyal customers have no need for 4WD capabilities, you can expect to see 2WD options rolled out across its entire range before very long.

The firm is also interested in hybrid technologies. Its first full hybrid vehicle hits the market in late 2012 and will be on the road the following year. “Hybrid technology represents a very high investment for any manufacturer and therefore higher costs, which are passed on to customers,” says Popham, confirming that the company will “concentrate on our larger vehicles first where there is more benefit to achieve for our customers.”

The Range-e plug-in hybrid is being trialled right now, with the company keen to achieve a 20-mile range vehicle with sub-120g/km emissions – without any compromise to the performance. Infrastructure is obviously a stumbling block (never before has plug-in technology been used for large vehicles) and balancing the weight of the battery and fuel efficiency is going to be a challenge.

“Hybrid is not a silver bullet for sustainability and it isn’t the only way forward,” says Popham.

Without the resources of the likes of Mercedes or BMW, Jaguar Land Rover will consider its next move carefully.

“The market wants more sustainable Land Rovers, but the technology is less important than the results – especially if the technology proves expensive to develop and adopt.

“It requires unique, bespoke componentry. Yet customer demand and take-up in Europe is still relatively low.” For now, the firm’s “three pillars of sustainability” will inform its efforts: reducing weight; reducing parasitic losses; and increasing powertrain efficiency.


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