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Land Rover to create 'family' of Discovery SUVs

The 2015 Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept is introduced during the 2014 New York International Auto Show, at the Javits Convention Center, in New York, Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

Richard Drew/AP Photo

The Land Rover Discovery will return to North America in 2015, the company confirmed at the New York International Auto Show, first as the Discovery Sport, and later with a family of Discovery models.

Foreshadowing the future of the Discovery SUV is the Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept unveiled here on Tuesday, though the Discovery Sport will be smaller, with either minimal or no third row seat room versus the concept's full seven-passenger capacity.

This move will kill the LR4 name in North America, the only market to use the letter/number appellation instead of the Discovery name. The LR4 moniker was deemed more appropriate for North America about 15 years ago, when Land Rover was taking its Discovery more upscale, at a time when Acura, Infiniti and Lexus began making major inroads in the Canadian and U.S. luxury market.

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The SUV side of Jaguar Land Rover has been focused on the Range Rover for the last few years, said Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern – starting with the ultra-successful Range Rover Evoque in 2011 – but is now turning its attention to the Land Rover brand.

So what distinguishes an upscale design for Land Rover versus the even more upscale design language of the Range Rover?

"Easy. By understanding the pillars of the different brands, which for Land Rover is its versatility," said McGovern, pointing to the removable armrest in the Discovery Concept that converts to a rolling travel case, complete with pull-up handle.

"The person driving the Range Rover will have their own Louis Vuitton bag they'd want to use."

The Discovery Concept uses an amazing array of technology that won't all make it to production next year, said McGovern, citing the clamshell-like suicide doors that would require extensive engineering to pass crash standards and structural rigidity tests.

"I love suicide doors," McGovern said. "I'll get them one year."

However, some of this technology was prompted by the design team, such as ability to open the doors using hand gestures. McGovern didn't want big, bulky door handles ruining the lines of the Discovery Concept.

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"This concept is a high-level indication of what is coming next year," said McGovern. Another version of the Discovery will debut at the Beijing Motor Show later this week.

Its less boxy look will herald in major improvements in technology, traditionally a Land Rover weak spot. The Discovery Concept features internet-connected "smart glass" all around – including the panoramic sunroof – which can read where passengers are looking and automatically tap into information on passing landmarks. Additionally, there are laser headlamps, and a ground-focused front bumper camera that makes the hood appear "transparent," by transmitting a ghosted image of the terrain ahead onto the lower part of the windshield.

Hand swiping gestures are used to open and close the doors, and can also adjust window tinting, turn signals and rear entertainment controls. How much of this technology will make it into production is still a mystery.

"Gesture control is definitely coming, but the question is when," said Dr. Wolfgang Epple, research and development director for Land Rover. "The transparent bonnet is another such system that will help increase the driver's confidence: allowing them to see the terrain underneath them, and help them drive on roads or in conditions that they may have avoided in the past."

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