Land Rover is forging ahead with diesel-electric hybrid technology that could soon see a Freelander-sized car capable of 60mpg fuel economy with lower carbon dioxide emissions than most small family hatchbacks.
The development of the new powertrain was revealed at the Detroit auto show to coincide with the unveiling of the LRX, a sub-Freelander-sized fashionable crossover 4x4.
At this stage, LRX is purely a concept to gauge public opinion, but insiders within the company desperately want to see it in production, and say that initial reaction strongly supports the case for it.
It will not be the first model to get the diesel-electric power system, however. Freelander prototypes are already testing it.
Land Rover has also said that 2.0-litre diesel Freelanders will get an engine stop-start system to reduce urban fuel consumption and emissions later this year, and now say that the package of fuel-saving measures will go further than that.
The hybrid uses a 2.0-litre diesel engine with stop-start and an electric motor on the rear axle. At speeds of up to 20mph, the electric motor is capable of driving all four wheels by itself. It also delivers additional pulling power to help the car when being driven off-road.
At higher speeds, the diesel engine would cut in and be helped by the electric motor until the car has reached cruising speed. The electric motor's battery pack would be recharged by energy normally lost when braking.
Land Rover estimates that carbon dioxide emissions could be as low as 120g/km.
The company is also looking to see whether the LRX's green trim materials could also be used on other current cars to reduce their impact on the environment.
The lightweight polycarbonate side windows and sunroof could certainly make the transfer, the company says.
It is now investigating whether the roof trim made of recycled plastic bottles, sustainable carpet felt and vegetable-tanned leather upholstery (easier to recycle) are also suitable for mass production.
LRX shorter, lower and lighter than a Freelander, but with an ultra-modern premium-car interior is likely to be on sale in 2010, and the people who created it want the production version to be as close as possible to the concept.
'The designers and engineers would be very passionate about that,' says design director Gerry McGovern.