How Land Rover is moving forward in the Covid-19 era, according to Robin Colgan.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

This year not only marks the 50th anniversary of the original Range Rover but also heralds the arrival of a new Land Rover Defender, the first major update since it launched in 1983. Pandemic or not, Robin Colgan, managing director of Land Rover’s Asia Pacific operations, is undaunted. The Peak speaks to the head honcho about the new Defender and how the team has had to tweak the reveal because of Covid-19.

You’ve run the Asia Pacific market for four years. How have you seen the perception of the brand evolve during this period?

Some things are constant. The Land Rover brand stands for ultimate capability in 4X4 and the Range Rover family builds on that foundation by creating the most luxurious vehicles in their class. While that is certainly our heritage - but I’ve heard ‘heritage’ defined as ‘history with a future’. How we interpret those brand values evolves over time and is largely defined by the development of new products and technologies. It’s critical that we remain relevant.

In the last four years, we’ve launched the Velar, which took Range Rover into a new segment and offered big car levels of luxury in a more compact, sporty package. Across all of the models there have been major technological developments – including electrified drivetrains, connectivity and active safety features. Some years ago, customers did not necessarily associate Land Rover with cutting edge technology – they do now. And that march towards increasingly sophisticated vehicles with a seamless ownership and driver experience will only continue.

How has the pandemic changed the way you approach selling autos?

Before Covid-19, we had already started digitalising certain aspects of our customer’s journey. We recognise the need for face-to-face contact and the human touch, but we also realise customers want to access information in ways and at times that suit them. We had invested in an enhanced online platform that had sales advisors and service bookings. Our websites have been updated and become more customer-centric. That means knowing what information customers are looking for and making sure it’s readily available. We had already started that journey and Covid-19 has simply made us press the accelerator.

What can we expect from the new Land Rover Defender?

It’s an all-new vehicle. Very robust. We believe it is the single, most capable 4X4 money can buy without extensive modification. It’s also crammed full of clever technology and has been tested to destruction over thousands of kilometres and four continents. You can safely describe the new Defender as unique.

Interest in this vehicle is sky-high. We might have ceased production of the old Defender four years ago, but customers have arguably been waiting 20 years for a modern replacement. The first reveal of the vehicle in 2019 was a huge moment for us. We loved the vehicle, but it can be difficult to second-guess customer reaction, particularly when everybody is so emotionally involved in the project. Social media gave us a quick and accurate gauge of public sentiment – and it was overwhelmingly positive. To date, and despite Covid-19 restrictions, we’re seeing the highest rates of enquiry and pre-bookings for any vehicle we’ve ever launched. 


How has Covid-19 impacted your launch plans for the new Defender?

It’s being launched digitally in most countries. While we lose something by not having the opportunity to present the vehicle in person, the online route means that we can reach a far wider audience. It also means we can invite high-profile guests to introduce the new Defender to Asia. In our launch broadcast on Aug 7, we will be joined by Land Rover’s Creative Director of Design, and the Executive Director of Product Engineering, to give their perspectives.

On top of that, it has led to a far more personalised approach to how we present the vehicle to each customer, and it has also meant that our online game has to be on point. Land Rover websites now have extensive details on the new vehicle as well as online sales advisors to help you choose available stock, value your part exchange and present finance options. In some markets, you can even secure your new car online with a deposit.

Have you had a chance to drive the New Defender and what are your favourite parts?

I have. The big surprise is how dynamic the on-road drive is. While I didn’t think it would be bad on the road, I just didn’t think it would be this fun on the corners. Other than that, the new PIVI infotainment system is just on a different level. Everything works seamlessly and it integrates perfectly with my phone and has zero lag. Finally, as a fan of old Land Rover cars, I’ve always missed the front-row middle seat in modern vehicles. It makes a return in the new Defender and it’s a fun, sociable feature – particularly if you have kids. Highly recommended.

Let’s talk about the Range Rover family. Five decades is truly something to admire. Why do you think it has managed to stay strong all these years?

Every great brand needs a USP. Range Rover gives customers contemporary British design and luxury in a package that can climb mountains and cross a river of mud. Somehow, that matters just the same almost anywhere, whether you’re on a shooting estate in Scotland or driving your children home in Singapore during torrential rain.

What are the remote leadership lessons you’ve learned during this period?

I think it’s difficult to communicate with our teams too much. I rarely see an employee survey that doesn’t raise communication gaps as an issue, and I’ve never seen one where employees complained about too much information. Remote working has amplified this. We’ve become a lot more structured and efficient in communicating with stakeholders since the lockdown as well – and we shouldn’t forget these lessons.

We’ve had to drop some of the formality around the workplace to adapt to this new reality and also become more sensitive to challenges around work-life balance. For many, this has been a collision of work, family commitments, homeschooling and even pets intervening in important videoconference calls.

Finally, I would say that we’ve learned that flexible remote working does work. It just needs the right people, clear objectives, effective communication and governance. With all of these up and running, there’s no reason for it not to work. It’s hard to see us simply defaulting back to our old work practices as things normalise.

Text Farhan Shah