How I wound up in Greensburg, Pa. 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, Pa. 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 Virginia misdirected to the Pittsburgh area corrected to Lyon Station and back to 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.
But here’s the thing: Those batteries may not be lithium-ion, which are efficient but super-expensive and difficult to recycle for environmental purposes. Nor are they likely to be nickel-metal-hydride, which also have their environmental cycling problems. Enter advanced lead-acid batteries with the emphasis on the word “advanced.”
Neither Miksiewicz nor any of her executives would identify for the record what automobile manufacturers are interested in East Penn’s new UltraBattery, which is what I came to Lyon Station to see. But a surreptitious peep at the battery company’s guest list showed representatives from car companies all over Asia and Western Europe, which is all I’m allowed to say at this point.
The excitement is understandable: A reliable battery that can accept and deliver large electrical pulses, especially in the partial state of charge needed for many hybrid applications, and do so at a cost substantially lower than lithium with an environmental recycling profile substantially higher than lithium’s, is a winner.
The UltraBattery uses carbon-enhanced capacitors to hold charges as long as lithium batteries — and much longer than most lead-acid types. It could be the breakthrough battery — in terms of charge retention, environmental recyclability and cost — that many automobile manufacturers say they are looking for.
East Penn executives say they are in final testing phases for the UltraBattery. It should be ready just in time for the electrification of Land Rover’s Range Rover line in 2014.
That date can’t come soon enough. My wallet is still aching from the strain of putting premium gasoline into the 2012 Range Rover Supercharged’s 27.6-gallon tank. It took all of the fun out of the SUV’s super-smooth power delivery from its supercharged 5-liter V-8 engine (510 horsepower, 461 foot-pounds of torque).
I was of two minds being lost in the 2012 Range Rover Supercharged. Being lost in such a pleasant, super-luxurious womb where all of your needs are taken care of, with the possible exception of correct directions, is not such a bad thing. But knowing that you are paying heavily for each mistaken mile is sobering. Here’s hoping that Land Rover also install a much better navigation system in its 2014 model.
Bottom line: Considering the changes coming to the Range Rover line, it would make sense to buy the 2012 model only as a collector’s item. Otherwise, stay away. Shop any number of luxury SUV rivals that have as many amenities and functional features and a better overall reliability rating.
Ride, acceleration and handling: It’s a land yacht par excellence — but a land yacht nonetheless. Despite its many electronically enhanced suspension adjustment features, you’d better treat curves with respect in this one.
Head-turning quotient: People have a thing for British royalty, even if it is now funded by former colonists.
Body style/layout: The 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged is a luxury front-engine, four-wheel-drive full-size sport-utility vehicle. Body construction is mostly aluminum. The Range Rover line is available in two trim levels — HSE and Supercharged.
Engine/transmission: The Range Rover Supercharged comes standard with a 5-liter, 32-valve, gasoline-direct-injection V-8 engine with variable valve lift and timing (510 horsepower, 461 foot-pounds of torque). Supercharging is another way of getting more air into the engine combustion chambers for a better air/fuel mixture and more power output. The engine, in this case, is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that can also be operated manually.
Capacities: Seats five people, compared with seven in many of today’s full-size SUV models. Maximum cargo capacity is a subpar for class 74.1 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 27.6 gallons of gasoline (premium is required). The 2012 Range Rover Supercharged can be outfitted to pull a trailer weighing 7,716 pounds.
Safety: Standard equipment includes front and rear ventilated disc brakes, four-wheel anti-lock brake protection, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability and traction control, side and head air bags, and high-intensity discharge headlamps.
Price: The base price for the 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged is $94,820. Dealer’s invoice price on that model is $86,287. Price as tested is $100,920 including $5,250 in options (special 20-inch-diameter “diamond turned” wheels, reclining rear seats, audio-video rear-seat entertainment package) and an $850 destination charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $91,915. A change is coming. I’d wait, or shop elsewhere.