Land Rover changes gear for climate challenge

Land Rover changes gear for climate challenge

Land Rover has responded to mounting pressure on the car industry over environmental concerns by giving its brand communications chief, Julian Whitehead, the new role of director of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (MW last week). The news has been hailed as a step in the right direction by some observers but others believe a complete overhaul of the Land Rover brand is needed in order to convince an increasingly sceptical public that it is taking the climate change challenge seriously.

Geoff Polites, chief executive of Land Rover and its sister marque Jaguar, said last month that the emissions issue was “high on our radar” and revealed that Land Rover was considering launching a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle. The company already runs one of the car industry’s largest carbon-offsetting programmes but the smallest vehicle in its range, the Freelander compact sports utility vehicle, emits 194g of carbon dioxide (CO2) per km compared with a target of an average 140g per km that the European Commission is proposing.

Guy Masters, UK managing director of global motoring consultancy Courland Automotive Practice, believes the criticism of Land Rover as one of the worst polluters in the car industry is unfair. “The difficulty for Land Rover is that it doesn’t produce anything apart from 4x4s,” he says. “It’s very easy for Toyota, which has equally large 4x4s, to talk about the Prius [the world’s biggest-selling hybrid vehicle]. It can offset the impact of its 4x4s with other products in its range, but it hasn’t stopped making 4x4s. Land Rover is only responding to customer demand. I think it’s a positive step appointing someone to this new CSR role and people have got to give it time.” 

Looking ahead
Land Rover is thought to be considering launching a battery-powered version of its Freelander model.

Whitehead will not be drawn on the specifics of his new position but says: “It’s about focusing the business on the environmental issue and developing strategies that enable us to meet the challenge. It’s also about making sure our marketing messages are appropriate to the way the market is moving.” 

Land Rover sold about 194,000 vehicles in 2006 and is on track for record sales again this year after a 9% rise in the first half of 2007. But Ed Thaw, a creative strategist at branding consultancy Venturethree, thinks the company needs to focus on improving its reputation on the environment if it is to continue its success in the long term.

Going the right way
“Land Rover needs to build a whole experience around itself so that people think of it as a brand moving in the right direction,” he says. “It needs to think of ways to lay claim to some sort of green credentials; it could sponsor green projects, and bring out smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. It needs a vehicle that completely changes people’s views of Land Rover.” 

Greenpeace climate transport campaigner Emily Armistead says Land Rover is still a “long way” from becoming green. “It only makes 4x4s and spends millions advertising them to city dwellers, which is completely inappropriate as we’re edging towards a climate crisis,” she adds. “The only way for Land Rover to improve its green credentials is to start making vehicles that are suitable for towns and cities.” 

Thaw believes that marques such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes are further down the line than Land Rover when it comes to the environment. He says: “Land Rover should be very worried about what its rivals are doing. People are loyal to Land Rover but if it becomes obvious to them that they can get a similar sized vehicle that is greener from another brand, I think they’ll seriously consider switching.” 

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