As a part of Land Rover’s new ‘model family’ strategy, the replacement for the Freelander 2 will drop the ‘Freelander’ name and join the expanding Discovery line-up of lifestyle SUVs, using a modified version of the Range Rover Evoque platform. The current Freelander 2, meanwhile, will reportedly form the basis of a new Tata Motors flagship SUV.
Slated to be priced in the region of around Rs. 20-25 lakh, this new SUV will sit at the top of the Tata model range and will go head to head with the likes of the Toyota Fortuner. However, while the Toyota uses a traditional body-on-ladder-frame chassis with a longitudinally mounted engine, the Freelander 2’s L359 platform uses a monocoque chassis and uses a transversely mounted engine. The head of Tata’s SUV development, Karl-Heinz Servos, prefers monocoques as a base for SUVs thanks to their relative lightness, and development of this car has reportedly been underway for some time with a small team.
This new SUV marks the first serious technological collaboration between Tata Motors and JLR since the former acquired the latter from Ford six years ago. However, while the basic platform will be the same, when it comes to the finished product, the upcoming Tata SUV will be significantly different from today’s Freelander. Think of it as older mechanicals with a new top hat, much like the Ford Figo. However, it promises to have the same solid quality of the Land Rover, and being Tata’s flagship, should feel considerably more upmarket than any of its current offerings. And this car won’t be re-badged a Land Rover; the L359 will carry on only as a Tata.
The chassis mechanicals may be shared, but the engine will not be JLR’s current 2.2-litre diesel, but instead a further development of Tata’s 2.2-litre VariCor diesel that powers the Aria and Safari Storme. The challenge will be engineering it to sit transversely in this new SUV rather than longitudinally as it does now; Mahindra had to do a similar exercise when it put the Scorpio’s mHawk engine into the XUV500. Tata will likely have to find a new gearbox for this application of the motor as well.
While the Land Rover Freelander 2 is currently assembled in India as a CKD, its tooling will likely be shipped over from the UK once production is stopped, so that the Tata Motors SUV can be built here from the ground up.
An all-new SUV, especially with the promise of JLR engineering behind it, would be an exciting product for Tata. However, moving too far upmarket has proven a problem for other mass-market carmakers in the past; Maruti Suzuki with the Kizashi and to some extent, Tata’s own Aria are examples. Tata is perceived as a maker of low-end cars, and launching a Rs 20 lakh-plus car certainly has its challenges. However, the finished product is still years away, with a launch not likely before 2016-17, and if it manages look and feel right when it goes on sale, SUV-loving India might just go crazy for it.