LYON STATION, Pa. — How I wound up in Greensburg, some four hours and 254 miles west of here, is a story for another time. For now, I’ll say that I was lured into misdirection by the sirenlike voice of the 2012 Land Rover Range Rover’s navigation system: “Proceed along the current road.”
I was proceeding west along Interstate 70, moving steadily into Pittsburgh’s metropolitan area. I should’ve been driving east on Interstate 76, toward Kutztown, in search of this tiny, well-hidden Pennsylvania Dutch hamlet that could change the future of the global automotive world, including that of the three-ton, 510-horsepower leviathan I was driving.
They develop and manufacture batteries here at East Penn Manufacturing Co. Most of East Penn’s batteries are the advanced lead-acid type, erroneously written off by much of the automotive media, including your humble columnist. We predicted that lighter-weight lithium-ion batteries would replace the heavy lead-acid type, especially in the automobile industry’s global movement toward vehicle electrification in pursuit of the equivalent of more miles per gallon.
Sally Miksiewicz, chairman and chief executive of East Penn, whose family has been turning out lead-acid batteries of one type or another for 66 years, begged to differ. She invited me to come to Lyon Station to see why.
But first, an aside: The common truth governing automobile development worldwide is that we can no longer proceed along the current road. An air-gulping, fuel-guzzling, supercharged 510-horsepower luxury sport-utility vehicle might sound sexy. But the truth is that not even the rich can really afford it. That means the 2012 Range Rover Supercharged I drove here was obsolescence on wheels.
The Range Rover Supercharged swigged the premium gasoline it requires at a rate of 16 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving. I ended my complete trip of about 710 miles — from Northern Virginia misdirected to the Pittsburgh area corrected to Lyon Station and back to Northern Virginia — with a fuel tab of $178. That’s ridiculous. Even Range Rover executives concede that reality cannot continue.
As a result, this is the very last year for the Land Rover Range Rover as we have come to love, loathe, lust for and know it. The 2013 model will be cosmetically different — sleeker, meaning more aerodynamically efficient. The 2014 model, compared with what we have today, will be a technological shocker.
Versions of the 2014 Range Rover will be electrified — gas-electric hybrid, electrical-assist stop-and-go or load-changing electrical assistance with the electrical portion doing most of the work at lower speeds and lower payloads. Mumbai-based Tata Motors, a component of the Indian conglomerate that now owns Land Rover, is being tight-lipped about the specific technology or combination of technologies it will use in future Range Rover models. But Tata’s executives have made it clear that we have seen the end of fuel-guzzling Range Rovers, and that batteries will play a major role in the company’s pursuit of more miles per gallon.