Consider Gerry McGovern a modern-day Renaissance man. As the Design Director of Land Rover and Range Rover, McGovern has helped define our concept of luxury, creating some of the most distinctive vehicles in the automobile industry in the process. However, he’s no ordinary gearhead; with a degree in industrial design, McGovern has grounded his revitalization of Land Rover firmly in the brand’s roots in pure design.
For the last decade, McGovern has been developing a new generation of Land Rovers and Range Rovers, redefining the brand while simultaneously prioritizing its heritage. While the designer’s influence came to the fore in 2010 (with that year’s Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Discovery), this year it is clearer than ever that McGovern has a firm grip on the wheel, and knows exactly where he’s going.
Which is a fitting segue to another famously firm grip; that of Daniel Craig, who has portrayed secret service agent James Bond, to much critical acclaim. McGovern recently tapped the actor to be the ambassador of the new 2014 Range Rover Sport, which got its debut at the New York Auto Show. Craig is an apt choice considering the way he’s played 007, updating a beloved canon and making the Bond franchise relevant to today without altering its vital DNA.
For those wondering what prompted McGovern to bring these two pillars of British culture together, the answer lies in his passion for modernist architecture. “It started with – I’m into modernist architecture; I’m more of a design nut than I am a car nut. One of my inspirations is Palm Springs in California, where they’ve got one of the best collections of mid-century modern architecture in the world. I was thinking about the [James Bond] movie Diamonds Are Forever, where Sean Connery gets beaten up by these two ladies – one was called Bambi, the other called Thumper,” McGovern says. “It took place in this house, an iconic building by John Lautner. [The Arthur Elrod House] sits on the ridge in Palm Springs, with this incredible panoramic view.”
That sweeping vista was the perfect visual representation of the Range Rover philosophy; that sense of elevation, the command in driving and the signature view out of their vehicles. So when it came time to market the 2014 Range Rover Sport, the tableau was still on McGovern’s mind. “I pictured a silhouette – you someone from the back, very British, tailored. You see him looking out across this vista, then he goes off down the steps to the carport [garage]. You’ve got this fantastic side view of the car – another panorama. He looks at [the car], gets in, drives off, and you don’t see him til the very end, when the car stops, he turns around, and it’s Daniel Craig.”
For McGovern, the actor is the ideal personification of the new model; capable, athletic. And it doesn’t hurt that the actor is a massive Range Rover fan. “They were very receptive, him and his team, right from the start. I think he’s perfect, a great ambassador – especially since he drives them anyway.”
Indeed, Craig was one of the first people to slip behind the wheel of the new model, driving the 2014 Range Rover Sport through the streets of New York to arrive at the grand unveiling ceremony. Set against the backdrop of the city, this is a very distinctive vehicle – perfectly suited to an urban environment. “Our vehicles are not necessarily driven by country gentlemen anymore, they’re driven by urbanites,” McGovern says. “New York is a very important market for us – we sell more Range Rover Sports in New York than we do anywhere else. I also think New York itself suits the character of the car – New York’s gritty, edgy, dramatic, dynamic – that suits the car.”
It’s not the first time the brand has worked with a high-profile Brit, having previously unveiled a limited edition Evoque with designer Victoria Beckham. As to whether Craig would consider a similar collaboration, McGovern says; “Daniel would certainly be someone we’d want to work with because I think he’s a great brand ambassador. Whether that could manifest itself into a special edition – maybe. We haven’t got that far yet; the relationship is in its very early stage. As to whether he has a desire to sit down and design with us – we’ll just have to see.”
In the meantime, McGovern is hard at work with his team, expanding on the design strategy that helped define the award-winning Range Rover Evoque, the new Range Rover, and the new Range Rover Sport. In the past, design was not necessarily considered at Land Rover; rather, it was a consequence of engineering and functionality. However, since McGovern was brought on board in 2004, there has been a fundamental change in the company, reflective of a desire to cultivate the emotional connection which only cohesive brand images can elicit.
The design strategy is a considered, intellectual approach to creating a family of vehicles that relate to each other, but have their own personalities. “I’ve got two other brothers, and you can probably tell we’re brothers because of certain features, but we’ve got totally different personalities,” McGovern says. “People will say, was this car influenced by the Evoque? No, it wasn’t. This car was influenced by that design strategy, which influenced the Evoque and the Range Rover. Likewise, when we start to develop the new Discoveries and the new Defenders, they’re all Land Rovers, but they all have their unique differentiation.”
“So for the new 2014 Range Rover Sport, it still contains the Range Rover DNA, with a floating roof and clamshell bonnet. But it looks very contemporary, modern, with flush glazing, a big panoramic roof. On the interior, there’s a paring down of the switch gears so it’s more intuitive and a lot of the actuation is done through the screen.”
McGovern sits on the Jaguar Land Rover Automotive Board of Directors, an ideal platform to coordinate between the heads of engineering and product development to create products that are not compromised by one discipline or another. “It’s a collaborative effort,” McGovern says, “not just the main engineering group doing their thing and then us beautifying it. It’s about designing the platform, the architecture, in harmony with the design of the body and the interior to make sure you create a product that is utterly desirable, that people want.”
That consistency of execution in design is paying off, giving Land Rover and Range Rover resonance with people the brands did not previously engage. According to McGovern, 80% of the people who buy an Evoque have never bought an SUV of any description before, and 70% of them have never bought a Land Rover before. The brand is leading the pack in luxury vehicles, and with every new model revealed McGovern’s vision becomes more clear. “It’s a very exciting time,” McGovern says, “and I think I’ve got the best job in the world.”
Photos courtesy Land Rover.