Ottawa Valley Land Rovers newsletter, June, 1994
by Robin Craig
General Service this month will cover the launch of the Discovery in Canada. Back to usual for next month.
CANADIAN LAUNCH OF LAND ROVER DISCOVERY
Founded on 25 June 1990 in Mississauga Ontario, Land Rover Canada Inc had by May 1st of this year sold 658 vehicles. These numbers were made up of the Range Rover in both its original and Long Wheel Base versions, twenty five limited edition Defender 110's and the Defender 90.
On Wednesday May 18th Alan Manessy, LRC Inc managing director launched the Canadian version of the Land Rover Discovery, filling the slot in the fierce Canadian family sport utility vehicle market that LRC Inc intends to serve. The North American Discovery has already been covered in Land Rover Owner so I will not cover those details again. The Canadian versions differ only in the following areas; all labels are bi-lingual English / French, all gauges are metric, daytime running lights and block heaters are standard. This article tells of the people and preparations for the Discovery launch and the launch itself.
The Canadian Discovery launch was held later than the American market. This was deliberately done so that adequate time could be given for dealers to have vehicles in the showroom and a dealer stock to be available so that supply would exceed demand, an issue that had embarrassingly not been handled well on a number of other North American launches by Land Rovers own admission.
As a free lance writer I was making my own plans to attend the launch on behalf of LRO. I also felt that I could possibly add something to the day.
I approached Shawne Alexander of LRC Inc to loan them the joint toy collection belonging to Andy Graham and I. She was not only thrilled at the suggestion but also somewhat amazed that anyone would collect them to start with! This would tie in very well with a planned set of display cabinets they were to have built in their front office in time for the launch. We made preparations here to bring one of every different vehicle we had in our collection. A couple of weeks before the launch Shawne phoned to say that the cabinets were not going to be finished in time, we would have to arrange our own method of displaying the collection. We decide to make a series of styrofoam steps to be covered with a large felt cloth, making it easy and light to transport in pieces yet retaining a high standard of appearance that would fit in with the launch.
On Monday 16th May Andy and I packed our bags and loaded our precious toys into his car along with the dismantled display for the five and a half hour trip to Mississauga, just outside of Toronto. As we talked in the car on the way down Andy asked me what titles I had in mind for my article in LRO. I came up with simple ones like "Canadian Discovery Launch" and the like, he suggested "Toy Boys from Ottawa exhibit their wares". Somehow I didn't thing Richard Thomas would go for it!
As we neared Mississauga I dug out the A to Z street map, minutes later we were pulling into the parking lot of Land Rover Canada's offices. It was after six thirty at night and we did not expect there to be anyone around. A number of Discoverys were parked outside along with a Defender 90 and a couple of Range Rovers. Beside the offices is an undeveloped property with some hills and slopes and tracks on it, we presumed this would be the basis for the planned off road course on Launch day.
We could not help but notice at the end of the building a roller door was open and people were working inside and somebody was welding outside. We wandered along and poked our heads in to see what was going on. With our usual nonchalance and bravado we nosed our way into the workshop where three guys were drilling and bolting some long pieces of lumber together.
"So guys, are you making something for the launch on Wednesday then?" I asked. "Yep, a teeter totter", said some chap with an English accent. "I'm Robin and this is Andy, we've come from Ottawa to display our toy collection for Discovery launch". "Hi, we heard you were coming, I'm Jonathan Slavin".
It was at this point that it dawned on me that I knew that name very well, then the penny dropped, this was Ken and Julie Slavin's son. We were quickly introduced to the other three. Doing the welding outside was Tim Hensley, one of the US team members who won the Camel Trophy in '93. Helping Jonathan inside were Jim Davis, a technical support supervisor on loan from Land Rover North America and Mel Rose, Land Rover Canada Inc's newest employee in only his second week on the job.
As we could see that they were busy we decided to leave them alone and head off to find our motel and settle in for the night. We would be back early the next morning to set up, so we would get to see more then.
By nine am on the Tuesday we were back at the LRC Inc office. We were greeted by Shawne Alexander and shown where we would be setting up. We unloaded our display and went to work. As we did various members of the staff of only six came by and we made our introductions. We could see that they were all very busy preparing for the launch the next day. The phones in the offices were constantly ringing, Shawne's clipping for a giant scrap book were blown onto the floor as someone inadvertently opened the workshop door. It was hectic. By eleven thirty we had our display laid out and finished. The last member of staff to make an introduction was Alan Manessy himself. He, like all the other members of staff was agog at the display. Thanking us profusely for taking the time to help with the launch by bringing the display we shook hands and he returned to answer yet another phone call in his office.
Andy and I then spent some time watching and photographing Tim and Jonathan building the teeter totter and then installing it. Tim drove a Discovery onto it and very quickly proved that balancing was possible. It was Brian Greggains, LRC Inc's media relations consultant who suggested the idea for this to Alan Manessy After watching the '93 Camel Trophy video, what he could not have known was how much of a hit on launch day this would be with the media.
While Mel set up the sound system and Jim checked over the vehicles for any last minute problems. We found out from Jonathan that he and Tim still had to finish building the off road course that they had already started on the Monday with the aid of a small shovel loader. In addition a few practice circuits would have to be done to prove the course. We could tell that it was going to be a long day for them.
After lunch Mel said that he and Don Robidas, the Operations Manager for LRC Inc were going to start taking the vehicles to be cleaned at a local car wash and detailing shop. I asked if Andy and I could tag along for the ride , he thought about it for a moment and disappeared back inside the office. A few minutes later he re-appeared, "Everyone else is really busy, how about you give us a hand to shuttle the vehicles to the wash". What a question, a chance to drive the vehicles on the road before the launch day, who was he kidding? "Sure" I said "As long as it is ok with you guys". Again he disappeared and the when he came again he passed me the keys to a white Discovery. Little did I know what role this vehicle would play in the launch.
Andy piled into the passenger seat beside me with our cameras at the ready and we were quickly familiarised with the controls by Mel. We were to follow Don who was driving a Range Rover County LWB. Soon the three vehicles were heading out of the parking lot. Keeping up with Don, who knew the way was no problem as I found that the automatic Discovery moved really quickly with the 3.9 litre V8 under the hood, the same engine that is now in all three vehicles here in Canada.
This was my first time driving the Discovery. With the permanent four wheel drive the vehicle had a surefootedness that took me way back to when I had driven an Audi Quattro in England years ago. The driving position was commanding in the fast moving city traffic. The convoy of the Range Rover and the two Discoveries moving at speed instantly turned heads as we made the four mile trip to the wash.
As time was running out I was asked to shuttle the Range Rover back to the office as soon as it was cleaned and come back with another vehicle. I settled behind the wheel and soon found the electric controls for the seat. In my opinion this is the only option that I would want in a Discovery that is not available at the moment. The Range Rover drove as I had remembered it from over ten years ago in the UK. Even though it has the same engine as the Discovery it does accelerate a little differently and the gear change point was at a different rpm than the Discovery.
Back at the office I handed over the Range Rovers keys in exchange for another set of Discovery keys. The tag this time did not have a label on it as to which vehicle it belonged to. Finding the matching Discovery was no problem, as the key ring has an infra red locking control. I walked into the parking lot and pointed the control at the line up until the hazard warning lights on one came on indicating that I had found my ride!
The cycle of washing and driving continued until all the vehicles were done. That was, except for a green Discovery that had developed a transmission leak and was put onto a flat bed recovery truck and hauled off to the local dealership to be worked on. Hopefully it would be ready for the next day's launch.
It was time to wander out onto the course. We found Tim and Jonathan placing the rocks and hard core onto the track. With over thirty members of the press expected the next day and each one having a chance to drive each one the three different vehicles the course had to satisfy an number of different criteria. First, it had been worked out that each circuit was to take no longer than ten minutes. The course should be demanding and varied enough to show the vehicle's capabilities to the maximum. Secondly it was imperative that the vehicles not become stuck and create a log jam in the system. It was anticipated that up to four vehicles would be on the course at once.
The rock climbing part of the course had been started with some very large boulders and hunks of sand stone, placed at critical distances to maximise axle articulation and to give the driver all the sensations that accompany it. On launch day each journalist was to have an instructor in the passenger seat to guide the vehicle over the correct line.
The placing of each stone was important to how well it would feel. Hard core was brought in over the course by Tim Hensley driving the front end loader. It was during one of these runs that the loader got bogged down. We all joked that it was ironic that the same driver had conquered Sabah Mayalasia Camel trophy in '93 but was defeated by a bit of mud in Canada! The replies were interesting but un-printable here. He seemed to be very agitated when Andy and I began photographing the evidence!
To be fair to Tim the plant hire company had provided a loader with virtually bald tires and a totally gutless engine that defied all attempts at momentum building to get through the goo. With valuable minutes before launch day quickly ticking by one of the 90's was backed up to the stricken loader and a strap attached. With Jonathan at the wheel Tim was rescued from his indignity.
At just after six thirty that night Jonathan decided to try the course for the first time with the Red Defender 90. I asked if I could catch a ride along. We started part way through the course on a steep down slope and from that through the rock climb section. With Tim giving us hand signals for the best line we made it through but this was far too severe to let journalists attempt, they would be over running the ten minute time slot allotted. More material was brought in and refinements made. When we left at nearly eight that night Don, Tim and Jonathan were still hard at work. We later found out that they had stayed at it 'till nearly eleven that night.
The next morning, launch day, we arrived at about nine to find all the Discoverys had been hidden away. A line of Defender 90s and Range Rovers were parked in front of a banner declaring that this was the Discovery launch.
Inside the office, journalists had already started to arrive and were being registered and given coffee and pastries. Soon all the top names in the Canadian automotive world were here. Andy took up his position beside our toy display and answered a constant stream of questions. All those present were impressed at the variety and range in size that was on display, from our smallest half inch long Land Rovers and Range Rovers up to the biggest Land Rover at over a foot long and remote controlled.
Just before ten we were ushered into the workshop area, this was were we had first met Tim and Jonathan making the beams and tetter totter. It had now been transformed into a very smart looking presentation area. Towards the rear of the area the vehicle hoist had been completely covered and protected from prying eyes with screens and wraps. I was told by a staff member that the white Discovery that I had driven to the car wash the day before was inside.
Just after ten Alan Manessy welcomed the assembled press and began a half hour multi media presentation that gave some history to both Land Rover Canada and the vehicles that it had sold up to that point. He explained that the Discovery is aimed at taking a portion of the high end market sport utility market and described the features of the vehicle.
Paul Ferraiolo of Land Rover North America Inc then took over and showed some graphic videos of testing that was done on the Discovery and described some of the systems involved in detail. A video of the recent LRNA Inc "La Ruta Maya" expedition in January of this year was run. This showed the recent trip into the jungles of Belize by new Discoverys with the elite of the North American motoring journalists in the drivers seat.
The purpose of which was two fold. Firstly the media would be given an unrivalled chance to driver the new vehicle in some incredible terrain. Secondly a replica of an Mayan altar and a carved limestone monolith from this ancient civilisation were to be returned. The broken pieces had been removed to the University of Pennsylvania in the 1950s to ensure their survival. Land Rover North America was sponsored the making of the fibreglass replicas and their return to Caracol in Belize.
With the video over Alan Manessy then finished introducing the Discovery, at the end of which was a question and answer session. Surprisingly few questions were asked. What did come out of it was that there is no intention to sell either a very basic or a commercial version. At present there is no "Land Rover Experience" driving course in existence in Canada. Serious thought is being given to sanctioning an off road driving school locally if one develops.
In addition it was revealed that market research suggests that the Discovery will sell in a ratio of about 3 to 1 to Range Rovers. Although there are currently only eight dealers across the country that is being increased to a perceived maximum of sixteen with their own dedicated sales territories.
That concluded the signal was given to Glen Campbell of LRNA who turned out the main lights and the Discovery was lowered on the lift to the floor. From inside the vehicle a "Discovery Family" of seven people emerged, the five adults were LRNA and LRC Inc staff members accompanied by Alan Manessy's two young boys. A very clever arrival indeed.
While the presentation had been going on staff had slipped outside and re-arranged all the vehicles and brought out the Discoverys ready for the on and off road driving. Unfortunately the green Discovery had not made it back from being repaired overnight. Before starting the afternoons driving we were all treated to a Gourmet Buffet that featured dishes of rainbow trout, venison, rabbit and an stir fry with the largest shrimp I have ever seen! This was accompanied by a suitable non alcoholic wine and juices.
Once outside the media enjoyed a competition to balance an automatic Discovery on the teeter totter. The idea of using a vehicle with a manual transmission had been vetoed, when all were reminded of how much slipping of the clutch would occur. The smell of a burned out clutch was something to be avoided. Both Defender 90s and two Range Rovers and three Discoverys were kept very busy being driven around the course by the media.
Once things had died down I too was given an opportunity to drive all three of the different vehicles around the course. Jonathan Slavin graciously consented to be my instructor for the 90 and Discovery. I found that the manual 90 with the 3.9 litre V8 was easy too stall if one was not careful. The automatic Discovery was a delight to drive and even after having been around the course in an Range Rover County LWB earlier I really did prefer the Discovery for it's all round vision and the way it handled.
Not only was this a memorable day for me but it was also one for Jonathan. It was his thirty first birthday. He commented to me that he had now been driving Land Rovers for twenty four years. Some quick mental math meant that he started at the tender age of seven. One other piece of trivia is that Jonathan is soon to be a dad for the first time. He let it slip that the pre-natal name for his child is Rover! He should have heard his father Ken's howls of laughter when I spoke to him the next day on the phone!
Once most people had left Alan Manessy and I sat down to talk for a while in his office. For nearly an hour we talked on a wide variety of topics. From where he intends to take Land Rover Canada Inc, the difficulties involved with cracking the Canadian market to where he has come from in the automotive world. We also covered possible modifications to the current products to better suit the consumer. This for me was the highlight of the perfect end to the day.
Andy and I would like to offer our most sincere thanks to all those involved in the Discovery launch. From Land Rover Canada Inc Alan Manessy and his staff of Shawne, Don, Lana-Lee, Sherry and Mel and Linda. From LRNA Glen and Jim. The course building geniuses and driving instructors Jonathan and Tim.
That's all for this month......... Robin Craig 613 738 7880
Reprinted from the Ottawa Valley Land Rovers newsletter, May 1994