Land Rover is planning an eighth model line for launch in 2012 helping to boost output at its Halewood plant near Liverpool and cementing the ownership of Tata Motors.

Project L486 is a platform variant of the Freelander and will have its own unique sheet metal and interior.

The key change is a longer wheelbase and wider body to provide sufficient interior space for the model's seven seats.

It may be named Ventura, a reference to the county north of Los Angeles. Land Rover has trialled this name previously, but not chosen to use it in production. [It was used by GM's Pontiac division from 1960-1977 - ed.]

The launch of the seven-seat Ventura will give Land Rover a jump up on key rivals Audi, BMW and Mercedes who have just launched five-seat 'soft- roaders'.

The Ventura will occupy an emerging market slot in Europe, but also battle an existing segment in the US, where seven seat, light duty SUVs like the Acura MDX and Honda Pilot are better established.

Engines are expected to be drawn from the Freelander family with the focus on four cylinder two- and 2.2-litre diesels.

Gearbox options are expected to include the new Getrag dual-clutch transmission recently launched by Ford and Volvo.

The Ventura is hugely important to the future of Halewood. It is being planned around production volume of 70,000 units a year, the same as the small, five-seat urban SUV, the LRX, also known as Project L405.

The LRX will be Land Rover's sixth and seventh models in three- and five-door form when launched in 2010.

If the Freelander can maintain its current 70,000 units a year, Halewood will be making 210,000 cars a year, nearly double its current output.

Halewood has struggled to break even on its current mix of Freelander and Jaguar X-type, output currently averaging around 100,000 cars a year. The LRX is expected to replace the X-type in 2010.

Ventura may take on a bigger significance in the US where Land Rover is understood to be studying whether the seven-seater might replace the Freelander.

That would sort the naming conundrum in the US, where the Freelander is badged LR2 and the Discovery LR3.

In size terms the Ventura is an LR2.5 - a name unlikely to make production.

Julian Rendell

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