Speaking at the launch of the new Freelander 2 model, Edwards says his office is contacted every month by around a dozen dealers hoping to take on the marque.
Freelander 1 had led the compact SUV sector in Britain since its launch in 1997. The recent loss of its 1.8-litre and 2.5-litre petrol-engined variants – after supplier Midlands Powertrain went into receivership – has dented sales, however, and allowed Honda’s CR-V to outsell the Solihull-made vehicle, admits Edwards.
Dealers first saw Freelander 2 around 18 months ago and were “ecstatic”, says Edwards. “Freelander is our volume model and it set the standard in 1997. We think that the latest model will again set the benchmark against which others are judged.
“We’re aiming at a lot of conquest business with new Freelander and for some customers it could be the first 4x4 vehicle they’ve ever bought. By this time next year, we expect to have regained the number one position with Freelander 2.”
The bulk of its sales will be handled by the dealer network, as Edwards continues to steer Land Rover away from direct sales to fleets.
He wants to get away from major leasing and rental companies’ demands for huge discounts. Freelander 2 starts at £21,000 – compared to just below £19,000 for its predecessor – and tops out at £31,000. It will not be offered in a three-door version.
Edwards expects the new vehicle to slot in between Honda CR-V and BMW X3, with the Freelander undercutting the same-spec Munich model by a massive £6,000.
Sales in 2007 are expected to reach 18,000; 95% will be the diesel model, which goes on sale today, followed by the petrol version in March.
Unlike all its Land Rover predecessors, Freelander 2 will not be built at Solihull but at the Ford plant in Halewood, where X-type Jaguar is produced, as part of a £250m investment in the Merseyside site.