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It’s rare that an automotive industry boss gets to finish a job he started with another employer, but Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle has managed it.

Until 1999, Reitzle was board member at BMW responsible for R&D. When he left the German firm in the turmoil that led to its disposal of Rover, he was snapped up by Ford to run its Premier Automotive Group of luxury brands. It was only a matter of months after he took over responsibility for PAG, however, that Ford bought Land Rover from BMW and added it to his portfolio.

For the German with a perfectionist streak, it was a dream come true, for while he was at BMW his pet project had been a replacement for the Range Rover. BMW had continued with the project after his departure, and when he checked it out as soon as it came into PAG’s possession he was overjoyed to see that his original vision hadn’t been changed. He took up almost where he left off, and at the Detroit and Los Angeles Auto Shows next January he will unveil what has become for him a very personal project. Dr Reitzle’s involvement was clear when he hosted a preliminary showing of the new SUV in London, when he spoke of his part in the development of what he called “my beloved baby.”

Rover, come over

Reitzle’s love of the Range Rover started in 1970, when he was 21 and the original Range Rover was introduced. The young engineering student was impressed by the concept of a luxury sedan that could cross the roughest country, and the car became one of his personal icons. By the time BMW took over Land Rover, Reitzle was head of research and development, and he seized the opportunity to take a leading role in creating a new Range Rover for the new millennium. It would, he decided, be the ultimate SUV, combining, he told his London audience of press representatives, “ultimate uncompromised off-road ability and (BMW) 7 Series autobahn performance at 220 kph (136 mph).”

The Range Rover was planned to sit above the X5 in the hierarchy of BMW models, so it was not surprising that it was planned from the start as the most expensive SUV in the world. Only the best was good enough, Reitzle decided, and he took a close interest in every aspect of the new model’s development. He was, he said, “deeply, deeply, personally involved” in the project and it was a great disappointment when he had to leave it behind when he left BMW. When he got it back he was naturally overjoyed.

Upright and focused

The new model replaces one that was introduced in 1994, and just as that version was larger than the 1970 original in every way, so too is the new model enlarged in almost every dimension (exterior mirrors included, it is actually 1.5 inches narrower than its predecessor). The focal point of the design is what Land Rover calls the “command driving position.” Sitting up high was one of the main attractions of the original Range Rover, and it is one of the biggest attractions of the entire SUV concept. With a roof that is an inch over six feet in height, the new vehicle gives a very commanding view of the scenery.

The car shows its BMW roots in its power units, a 4.4-liter V-8 gasoline unit and a 3.6-liter turbodiesel that are both supplied from the German company. (Interestingly, the BMW X5 gets an uprated 4.6-liter V-8 this year, perhaps to fend off the new Range Rover.) The body and suspension are both a step forward from the existing design, which has a separate chassis and a solid rear axle. Unitary construction and independent suspension on all four wheels both contribute to the aim of creating an SUV that will be as efficient off the road as it is on. Reitzle is confident that buyers will find it will be unbeatable in all conditions, with road performance that will match up to the best German luxury sedans.

Quality has been a problem at Land Rover in the past, and the new boss is determined to kill that reputation. He revealed that almost one and a half billion dollars had been spent on developing this vehicle, and he personally would be checking that quality was up to the highest standards. “If the quality isn’t up to (Mercedes) S-Class or (BMW) 7-Series levels,” he said, “ it won’t get out the door.”

By Ian Noris
courtesy of
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