Murray Dietsch with the Evoque

Murray Dietsch with the Evoque

As director of programmes for Land Rover, Murray Dietsch looks after up to 16 current or future vehicle development projects at any one time. He talked recently with Glenn Brooks.

GB: How long have you been in your job, and what does your role entail?

MD: I’ve been in this job for five years and I look after the project side of the business. So that’s programme management; making sure things are running on time and working with the chief engineers for all the vehicle lines that I’m responsible for.

GB: And which vehicles are they?

MD: Presently, that’s Evoque, Freelander, Discovery and the current Defender, and the model year updates and future model replacements. So it entails everything from day to day monitoring of quality all the way through to all-new vehicles or model year activities. I might have anywhere between 16 or so projects in my control at any one time - launching a car within the next month to working on an ’18 model year for instance.

GB: So you’re involved with a vehicle right from the start?

MD: Typically, I’ll be involved 6-12 months before we kick the project off, and then once it’s been kicked off it’s then completely my responsibility or my team’s responsibility to manage that through the engineering and development phases, right the way through to launch. And then in fact beyond launch - I still own each of the car lines beyond that.

GB: Why is the Evoque about to be given a new four-wheel drive system?

MD: We’re in constant search for improved fuel economy and reduced CO2, so we’re looking at all the technologies that we possibly can, to be able to do that. And not just from technical things like the Active Driveline that we’ve got in Evoque, but also weight saving technologies, or looking at parasitic losses - everything we possibly can to improve economy.

So this was a piece of what I would call ‘brand defining’ technology for Land Rover. Normally, we introduce something and customers don’t really care about how we do it, they just expect us techy guys to develop a car that drives well on-road, off-road, has the right fuel economy, looks good, fits maybe 10 people in it - they want all of those things. And then it’s up to us to work it all out. This new 4x4 system is just common sense for us. It improves fuel economy, it improves on-road characteristics and driveability and it completely underpins the brand ethos in terms of off-road capability. We also have the new nine-speed in Evoque and this allows us to do stop-start on automatics.

GB: How is your relationship with GKN, the supplier of the new 4WD system for the Evoque?

MD: GKN has been a partner with us for years. They supply some of the existing all-wheel drive components that we’ve got on Evoque, and we have ZF for the new nine-speed transmission. That’s been really exciting for us because we’ve got not only a new-to-us transmission but pretty much the first-to-market with a nine-speed transmission.

GB: The Jeep Cherokee won’t beat you to market?

MD: It’s going to be fairly touch and go whether or not Chrysler or ourselves get there first but it’s the first application of all-wheel drive and nine-speed automatic gearbox.

GB: Mid-cycle for the Evoque can't be more than a year or two away, so what’s next? A production version of the LRX convertible concept [Detroit show in January 2008]?

MD: Well, we’re looking at lots of stuff that we can’t talk about. We’re always looking at opportunities in the market. We might be able to do some diversification with Evoque, but not just on Evoque - on other car lines as well.

GB: Why did Land Rover make the decision to go with diesel for the hybrid powertrain in the Range Rover and Sport? Doesn't that rule out sales in the US and China?

MD: It made sense for us to combine hybrids with diesel technology because that engine already has the lowest CO2 emissions. In those markets that you’re referred to, it’s not that they won’t necessarily take a diesel, it’s just that diesels aren’t that prolific in the market.

GB: Are you holding back to do a petrol hybrid after you launch the diesel for Europe?

The emphasis has been getting the CO2 down for European markets, and that’s what we’ve been able to do. Europe is one of the main markets for those vehicles so that’s what we’ve been focussed on.

GB: Can you see a business case for a future Discovery diesel hybrid?

MD: Absolutely. The technologies that we’re introducing on all of our cars, we can pull those across different model lines. If there’s a business case that can pay for the incremental cost: things like hybrid technologies are not cheap to develop. There’s no reason that the technology can’t be applied where we want it to be.

GB: The old Range Rover was ten by the time it was replaced, and now we’re seeing a second facelift for the Discovery, which is already nine years old. Why are Land Rover lifecycles so long?

MD: A combination of factors, but both those vehicles are so iconic they can manage themselves in the market. If there was an issue with sales declining we certainly would have been all over it beforehand. We sold more Range Rovers in the last year of production than in any year prior to that, and what’s been happening with Discovery is very similar.

GB: Defender is easily Land Rover’s oldest vehicle. What can you say about the replacement?

MD: Defender will cease production at the end of 2015, which is to do with EU6 [emissions norms] and some safety legislation [that it won’t comply with from 2016]. We’re working through our plans to replace it, and maybe it will be one vehicle or a portfolio of vehicles.

GB: So there’s going to be a gap between the end of current Defender and the launch of its replacement?

MD: Europe is still our biggest market for Defender so as soon as we come out of that, the volume will decline quite substantially, as you’d expect. We’re not yet ready to talk about what we’re planning to do with Defender replacement. But rest assured that we’re absolutely sure that we want to replace it.