Rover Thoughts: “Here’s Why” Doug Demuro is Right and Wrong About Land Rover

If you think I’m going to trash Doug Demuro here, I’m not, not even a little. Doug Demuro is brilliant and I wish I had half the free time, patience, charisma, and prodigious ability to sniff out empty parking lots around literally the world where people won’t bother me while I film a car’s quirks and features. I’m not allowed to work with cameras anywhere it seems, without people getting in my business. Seriously, subscribe to his YouTube channel. It’s an all-time great that relies solely on Doug Demuro’s spirit and what is likely deliberate low production value coupled with excellent insight and granular observations on a given car’s design and manufacturing. His videos are great, easy to follow and digest, funny, and 99% of the time, are pragmatically correct on all points. Doug Demuro, when Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond are vaporized in an act of heroic but ill-thought-out male stupidity (“how hard can it be?”), I hope Jeff Bezos and Amazon sign you up to take the Grand Tour forward…assuming you want it.

And yes, this post is also a Doug Demuro drinking game. (takes a shot)



Doug’s big break on YouTube and the internet came when he released a series of videos chronicling his ownership experience with a pre-owned 2006 Land Rover Range Rover L322 which he bought from CarMax along with a six-year 100,000 mile warranty, and oh what a series of videos it has been.

Side note: Doug is the CarMax equivalent of a card counter. He’s a genius at buying & selling vehicles, which may come from his former career working for a car company (Porsche America I think?)

Anyway, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for anyone when I tell you that Doug’s Range Rover wound up being a warranty nightmare for  CarMax. In addition to YouTube, Doug also had/has a column on Autotrader called oversteer where he also chronicled his “adventure” and shared other thoughts on Land Rover and Range Rover models respectively. And this is where we get to devil in the details around Doug’s two points:

  1. Range Rovers are notoriously unreliable
  2. Land Rover deliberately doesn’t care about making reliable vehicles because their owner-base will keep getting new models due to the cachet that comes with owning one.

Before I analyze and deconstruct Doug’s two propositions, I want to give you my short responses:

  1. …mmmYeah Doug has a point there
  2. Nope. No no no. Nopers. Notown USA. There is a fairer, more subtle, and nuanced speculative argument to be made than just “they don’t care.”

Range Rover classic Doug demuroI’m going to come at this topic from a couple of angles. First, I’m going to try to historically speculate/explain the history behind the correct  part of Doug Demuro’s postulation – that Range Rovers are notoriously unreliable. So let’s start with Range Rovers in general, and not Doug’s specific model, which was the first year of the Gen2 L322 Range Rover, a victimized chimera of a vehicle (more on that later). Alright, with that out of the way, the reason for unreliability is simple: Rubber. If you can’t seal it, you’re going to get water in places you don’t want to, and British Leyland (later Rover group) developed (or sourced) terrible rubber for use in its electrical wiring and weather stripping throughout its vehicles. James May picked up on this when reviewing the KWE restomodded Jaguar XJS. This lack of decent rubber led to terrible rust and frequent electrical issues like shorts as water is known to be a culprit of.

To be fair, this wasn’t necessarily British Leyland’s fault as the UK government kept in place many protectionist trade policies after World War II  that basically meant that certain manufacturing industries had literally nothing in the way of competition from anyone off the island. So you had no choice but to use Nigel’s rubber because Stan’s rubber cost five times as much.

 

The previous sentence is of course, a gross oversimplification of the situation designed to make the basic point that British rubber from the 60’s through the 90’s was rubbish…which is a fact. I’m not going to dive any more deeply into this because this is a blog post and not a Master’s thesis on real comparative advantage vs quality of goods and services vs efficiency, although it’s worth pointing out that the UK’s real comparative advantage in the rubber industry only ever hit positive numbers in the early 1980’s when literally everything being manufactured on the planet was junk before it hit store shelves. In the auto industry, the term is of course, the “Malaise Era.”



But this isn’t the reason that Doug Demuro’s Range Rover was so unreliable. Oh no. His L322 didn’t begin development until close to twenty five years after the P38 (on a technicality) which was largely an evolution of the original Range Rover and carried over much of its parts and hardware from the 1970’s. The L322 shared nothing with the P38.

L322 doug demuro range rover

This is where things get emotional and dramatic for Land Rover and its employees. Because no sooner did the P38 hit showrooms, then Rover Group was bought by BMW. And you know what BMW did? BMW pretty much abandoned any further development of the vehicle that had been slowly but surely and methodically tweaked and refined over twenty-five years, and set Land Rover to work…designing and building a BMW with Land Rover badges. In fact the only real change the P38 saw in its six years on the road was a new engine management system bolted to an otherwise unchanged engine (itself a Buick V8 from the 1960’s). Other than that, over the years, you got new colors, more wood trim, and different wheels, but all that time was really spent building the next Range Rover (cough!!bmwcough!!). So the reliability problems of a single-generation vehicle basically went completely unaddressed for those six years because BMW simply didn’t care about making this British designed vehicle work in the way in which it was intended.

And then the Americans rescued the British again.

BMW, in either a shrewd move, or shortsighted move (that wound up benefitting everyone in hindsight), tired of ownership of the Rover Group. Maybe it’s because they needed to make their quarter. Maybe it’s because they were overextended due to the nightmare that the Rolls-Royce acquisition became. It’s also possible (and this often happens) that BMW decided that the Land Rover ethos (of tough and capable and dependable-ish-until-BMW-came-around off-road utility vehicles) did not fit in with the BMW brand that offers practical high-performance vehicles in a variety of shapes and sizes that offer a pleasing and exhilarating-when-you-want-it on-road experience. So they made a cunning move…



A year away from the L322’s launch date, BMW sold Land Rover to Ford. This meant it was impossible for Ford to shift course on the vehicle’s development AND it meant Ford would have to keep buying pretty much all the mechanicals and electronics from BMW that it was manufacturing and sending to England to be used in the soon-to-be-released modern L322 Range Rover. It also meant that any reliability issues borne of German manufacturing (and yes, the German cars have their problems too) would be Ford’s problem. So let’s recap:

You have a British factory and British employees building what is basically a completely German vehicle and you’re under American management. Talk about zero accountability and a really zig-zaggy org chart of mostly dotted line reporting, if any reporting at all. It sounded like nobody wanted to build or sell or give a rat’s butt about the L322. And despite claims by LR executives to the contrary, what rolled off the assembly line was more of the same poor reliability that Land Rovers had become associated with, and it would get worse.(links to a top gear recap as I can’t find the actual video online).

Don’t worry, we’ll get back to Doug Demuro in a bit. Just roll with me here…

But then something odd happened. Ford turned out to be the cool parent. See, they gave Land Rover its Britishness back. Ford would go on to add Jaguar and Aston Martin to their Premier Automotive Group (along with Volvo…odd choice?) and in turn helped to reignite the best-of-british-spark that had been missing for some time. All development returned to the UK, and a very important fellow was hired on named Andy Wheel. Andy Wheel would go on to design the Discovery 3/LR3 which Richard Hammond called the best 4×4 ever made. As nearly as I can tell from a lack of available information on the web, the LR3, it didn’t share many, if any parts from the L322 Range Rover (BMW e39 540i) parts bin. It was a home grown product through and through. It would later go on to provide the mechanicals and electrics (in their entirety) for the L320 Range Rover Sport…like Bertram.

L320 doug demuro range rover sport

And then Ford got a brain wave: Let’s stop paying BMW for the big bits we put in the L322

And so in an effort to improve things and give the L322 a British heart, Ford opted to  put the engine developed by Jaguar for the LR3 /XJ8/V8 Vantage also into the L322. This was a bit of a double-edged basketball. Their intentions were good, but it was a bad executive decision because it’s not like the old days of shoebox vehicles where you could drop any engine into pretty much anything and plug in the battery and things would just kinda work. No, the L322 still had more miles of BMW wiring harnesses than an elephant’s intestine is long, and more BMW control modules than zits on a teen’s face and replacing a vehicle’s engine is one thing, but replacing all the wiring and control modules is something else entirely. Something Ford didn’t do…we think…until later.



What this meant was that Ford had to figure out how to make their jaguar V8 and all its ECUs and emissions controls and power management  systems talk to all the BMW brains and nerves in the vehicle. This was no small task given that the the downloadable PDF manual for the BMW software was probably in German. If you remember computers back in 2003, you remember that things were still pretty buggy and in their infancy relative to today and software didn’t make allowances for freezes and crashes to the extent it does now. Software would also function incorrectly with bugs without freezing or crashing, and that brings us back around to Doug Demuro’s experience.

Doug’s 2006 Land Rover Range Rover L322 is an unfortunate chimera of disinterested British manufacturing, absentee German design, and janitorial American management (although to be fair, Ford eventually did an incredibly good job of cleaning things up). I can only imagine how confused Doug Demuro’s vehicle was on the inside, questioning its existence, unsure where it was or what it was. It’s no wonder nothing worked, nor was his experience at all unique. Nothing inside the ’06 L322 was really made to fit together well.

So while that was going on, car designer Andy Wheel (and also Richard Woolley of Range Rover Sport fame) were busy making the vehicle that would exemplify the lessons learned from every previous Land Rover and Range Rover (not counting the L322 because screw that) and the result was, in my humble opinion, fantastic in terms of building a supremely balanced vehicle that was capable, understated, non-pretentious, and timeless. In fact its only weakness appears to be fuel consumption, which could have been addressed with a smaller engine, had the market not demanded “MORE POWERRRRR!!…”

A review of ownership reviews across the internets of the L319 Discovery 3/LR3 and L320 Range Rover Sport reveals them to also have been exceptionally reliable, contradicting popular opinions about Land Rover in general. One can deduce that real time and effort was put into changing that “feature” of previous vehicles. Given that it shared no parts with the L322, there was not necessarily any reason to believe it would share in the reliability problems either. Also, the 4.4L Jaguar V8 was rated as being one of the best engines ever made and is considered to still be better than the later 5.0L V8 in the refreshed models that came out in 2010.

Ford did an incredible job of cleaning up the BMW mess at Land Rover, and it was unfortunate that they had to dissolve their premium automotive group during the economic downturn of the mid-2000’s,with Jaguar/Land Rover being sold to Tata Motors of India, but they paved the way for further astonishing vehicles to come out of Solihull the current crop is likely still the lingering legacy of Ford’s time as the steward of the brand. I feel confident in saying that the L319/L320 were the true successors to the P38 and Discovery 2 and heirs to the Land Rover brand, and the L322 never happened.

Never ever.

Like Howard the Duck or Crystal Pepsi.

It never happened.

So no, Doug Demuro, it’s not that Land Rover doesn’t (or didn’t) care about their owners having reliable vehicles while yes it’s a fact that their vehicles were unreliable for a time. The fact of the matter is, true Land Rover vehicles with actual Land Rover energy put into designing them improved dramatically with the departure of BMW as a parent company and that the L322 should be put in a category of its own, much like people without a country. If you take the L322 out of the equation, you’ll find that 21st century LR vehicles do not find themselves at the bottom of reliability surveys, they tend to be average to good. Sure things go wrong with some, but that happens with every car, even Toyotas. I had a Subaru Impreza WRX that I got new that was in the shop more than Doug’s Range Rover ever has been. I had a Ford Focus Electric that needed a new engine and transmission in fewer than 20,000 miles (the latter being the “focus” of a class action lawsuit, although not the EV model technically).  But really, take a look around the internet. You’ll find mostly praise for L319s and L320s. They’re perfectly normal reliable vehicles that can do just about anything but 40mpg. And they’re going  to go up in value, eventually…like rusty old VW Westphalias. Who saw that coming?



Or I could be literally wrong about everything I just wrote. But I won’t admit to that until design executives from Ford, Land Rover, and BMW reach out to me and tell me the true story of that fabled forty year love triangle.

Okay, back to spending hours on Doug Demuro’s Youtube Channel