Good news, everyone! Today is Friday, and that means it’s time for Letters to Doug, your favorite weekly Jalopnik column wherein you ask me a question and I tell you the answer in a highly questionable way.
Remember: you, too, can participate in Letters to Doug. All you have to do is send Doug a Letter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Although I can’t promise I will feature your letter on Jalopnik, I can promise I will read through it and possibly chuckle.
This week’s letter comes to us from a reader named Earvin, who writes:
I was wondering why you think cars that have such a terrible reputation for reliability, such as the Range Rover, remain so popular. You would think that their reputation will eventually catch up to them, but instead they are still the luxury SUV to get. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, especially considering you own(ed?) one.
Let’s start this off by getting one thing clear, Earvin: I still own my Range Rover. My beautiful, handsome, 2006 Range Rover; the Range Rover that has provided an expensive headache to the wonderful folks at CarMax for the better part of three years now. I love it deeply. It is a member of my family. I sometimes give it hugs when I finish driving it for the day. I like to stroke its dashboard as if it were a walrus in a petting zoo. Occasionally I talk to it. There are currently two warning lights illuminated in its dashboard.
Which, frankly, is a great segue into why people still buy Land Rovers even though they offer the same level of durability as convenience store electronics.
Here’s the deal, Earvin: for the last year or so, I admit I’ve been strongly considering replacing my Range Rover with a Toyota Land Cruiser when the warranty runs out. And here’s why: the Range Rover forums are filled with people asking questions like “What’s this noise?” or “What’s this warning light?” or “What’s this fluid in my interior?” Whereas the Land Cruiser forums are filled with people showing off the fact that they recently drove from Charlotte, North Carolina, to rural Tanzania using only street tires and a snorkel.
But then, a few months ago, I had the chance to get up close and personal with a 2013 Land Cruiser, which is the model I want. And do you know what I discovered? The turn signal stalk is from a Toyota Sienna. The steering wheel is from a Toyota Tundra. The window switches are from a Toyota Camry. The Land Cruiser – the mighty Land Cruiser, with its go-anywhere persona and its near-$90,000 price tag – is a parts bin special.
So why, you are asking, does this matter?
Here’s why: have you ever sat in a Range Rover? I mean, seriously. The thing is gorgeous. It’s beautiful. The interior is filled with perfectly woven leather and handsome electronics and a lot of other stuff you can’t afford and shouldn’t touch with your grimy little meathooks. It’s the perfect automotive accessory for the kind of person who pays $84 for a designer clothes hanger at the kind of designer furniture store where the salesperson sneers at you even if you buy something.
And it’s not just the Land Cruiser that suffers from this parts bin issue. Ultimately, the Infiniti QX80 shares many interior components with other, cheaper Infiniti models. The Escalade is just a really nice Tahoe. The Lincoln Navigator is an outdated dinosaur. The Mercedes G-Wagen is really the only SUV that offers the same level of bespoke character as the Range Rover – but most Range Rover people I talk to (including myself) think the G-Wagen goes a little too far down the “asshole” scale for serious consideration. NOTE: If your car is “too asshole” for Range Rover buyers, it may be time to start dialing it back a little.
This sort of thing may not matter to you, but it matters to the kind of person who spends ninety grand on a luxury SUV. They don’t want their car to share a drivetrain with the Chevy Tahoe. They don’t want to push a window switch from a Toyota Avalon. They don’t want to experience the Lincoln Navigator’s N SYNC-era interior. They want everything to be special, unique, high-quality, even if – ultimately – that low-volume “specialness” is probably the major reason Range Rovers are so unreliable.
But don’t they care that Range Rovers are unreliable? The answer is, quite frankly, no, they don’t. One of my favorite columns I’ve ever written dealt with this exact issue. In it, I argued that Land Rover doesn’t need to worry about reliability scores, and J.D. Power ratings, and Consumer Reports, because they consistently lose every metric and yet their cars still sell for full sticker – and they usually have a waiting list. Simply put, Range Rover buyers don’t consider things like cost of ownership and long-term durability. They want the nicest car they can get, they own it solely under warranty, and then they get a new one.
Clearly, Land Rover recognizes this fact. The single best proof of this I’ve ever seen came merely yesterday, when forgotten luxury brand Jaguar (MOTTO: More than just something to look at while your Land Rover is being serviced!) rolled out a new “Elite Care” plan that extends the brand’s standard bumper-to-bumper warranty to 5 years and 60,000 miles — now the longest in the luxury car business — and added roadside assistance and free maintenance for that same term.
During the press conference, they explained they created this warranty because buyers have a “poor perception” of Jaguar reliability, and they want to help change that. But what about the reliability of Jaguar’s sister brand, Land Rover? Don’t buyers have a poor perception of that, too? Shouldn’t they get your slick new warranty?
Er, no. Nada. That warranty is only for Jaguar.
Because the good folks at Tata know that Land Rovers will keep breaking. And Land Rover buyers will keep buying them. And so goes the circle of life in upscale suburbia.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.