Who is a Range Rover Designer?

Who is a Range Rover DesignerProfessor Gerry McGovern OBE is Land Rover’s Chief Creative Officer and the man responsible for leading the team which designs all the models in the current Range Rover line-up as well as the Discovery, Discovery Sport and the latest Defender.

Growing up in Coventry, McGovern was surrounded by car manufacturers but began his career at Chrysler UK who sponsored him to take a course in industrial design at Coventry University. He then went on to specialise in automotive design at the Royal College of Art in London, the establishment recognising his achievements by appointing him Visiting Professor in 2014. In 2016, his alma mater, Coventry University, made him an Honorary Doctor of Arts.

After spending time working for Chrysler in the US, McGovern joined Austin Rover working for his old boss, Roy Axe. Here, he was involved with the MG EX-E concept car and was the lead designer for the MGf sports car. His first involvement with Land Rover came with his design for the Freelander which launched in 1997. When the Ford Motor Company acquired Land Rover in 2000, his talent was soon recognised and he was appointed to head up the Lincoln-Mercury design team, eventually setting up a studio in the Premier Automotive Group’s hometown of Irvine, California.

McGovern returned from America to Land Rover as Director, Advanced Design in 2004, replacing the retiring Geof Upex as head of design two years later. As such McGovern was responsible for the Land Rover LRX concept vehicle, translated into production as the acclaimed Range Rover Evoque and remaining remarkably true to the concept design. Recent successes have included the Range Rover Velar and a well-received replacement for the iconic Defender.

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In recognition of his services to automotive design, Gerry McGovern was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2020 New Year’s honours list.

Away from his busy schedule, McGovern found time to talk to Range Rover World in an exclusive interview about the model’s design development.

We began by talking about the pressure that the Rover Company’s styling head, David Bache came under in the 1960s to abandon his designs for the original Range Rover to speed the model into production. While his renderings included Renault Espace-like monobox concepts, he was instead ordered to merely tidy up the prototype. Would it have been a different vehicle had he been allowed to continue with his radical ideas? ‘One-box designs lack character’, says McGovern, ‘If it had gone in that direction, I doubt we would have had the peerless vehicle we have today’. But he had some sympathy for his predecessor. ‘Then’, he added, ‘engineering would present the studio with all the vehicle’s hard points for a vehicle to be designed around them. Now, it’s very different. It’s studio led.

It’s the engineers’ job to follow the design.’. It’s became clear that McGovern now has considerable freedom to set the design direction. This freedom is thanks in many ways to the support of Ratan Tata, head of the family conglomerate that owns Jaguar Land Rover through its Tata Motors subsidiary. Tata studied architecture in America and is known to be enthusiastic about the design process. It’s also significant that the importance of design is reflected in McGovern’s position as a senior executive reporting only to the CEO of Jaguar Land Rover.

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The Range Rover stands alone as the peerless luxury SUV. Had Solihull’s designers had their way in the 1960s, things might have been different The development of electric vehicles will free designers from having to accommodate a conventional drive train, but McGovern thinks that this will not mean that cars will necessarily look different. ‘Technically, even with conventionally powered vehicles there’s little need for a bonnet as engines need minimal attention. But volume and proportions must be correct to make a vehicle truly desirable.’

While Range Rover carries a strong design iconography, McGovern says that features like the clamshell bonnet and floating roof are not mandatory. ‘We will use them where appropriate, but features must have a function. That said, Range Rover has a strong aesthetic and its identity is in its heritage.’ ‘Land Rover leads the way in design excellence,’ he continued, ‘The design strategy embodied in the Evoque created a strongly desirable product. This strategy will continue to be refined in future models.’

But it’s not just about shape, according to McGovern. ‘Materials are important too, he says, stressing Land Rover’s signature use of different textures to enhance the tactility of the occupant interface. ‘These are luxury products’, he points out, ‘people have an emotional connection with our vehicles that we must encourage and support.’

With the current Range Rover launched eight years ago, the company will be conceptualising its replacement. ‘The Range Rover is a flagship,’ says McGovern, ‘Any new vehicle must be significant and recognisable as a Range Rover. But it’s a Range Rover for a new age so we must allow the design to evolve’, ‘It also must fit the three pillar Range Rover, Discovery and Defender brand strategy’, he continued, ‘And be a sound proposition to meet the needs of the business.’

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We ask him which of the Range Rover models he considers a game changer. The Evoque immediately springs to McGovern’s mind: ‘Tt helped save the company with its appeal to a wide range of customers. It sold so well thanks to its design more than any other product. It also showed that Range Rover didn’t have to be pigeon-holed as an out ofreach luxury vehicle.’

To conclude, we quizzed McGovern on which of his many designs he is most proud of. ‘All of them!’ He exclaims ‘I am as proud of all of them as I am of the team that helped me create then.

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