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Land Rover has built a nice, profitable niche selling luxury sport-utility vehicles priced from about $30,000 to $55,000. But with that cozy niche growing fast, a formidable array of luxury brands like Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lincoln are all planning or considering their own entries in the next two years.

"Five years from now, there will be some bodies by the roadside," said Roy Grace, chairman of Grace & Rothschild, New York, agency for Land Rover North America. "It's not going to be us."

Land Rover is backing the 1996 model year advertising with an estimated $40 million budget, up a projected 25% from 1995, in an effort to continue its spectacular sales momentum. On a year-to-year basis through October, sales were up 71.3% to 15,063 units as Land Rover capitalized on an expanded product lineup and the growing popularity of sport-utility vehicles.

A recent survey by Time Inc. and CNW Marketing/Research, Brandon, Ore., found strong consumer interest in the upscale segment. Among households with $100,000-plus income who intend to purchase a sport-utility vehicle within six months, 35.2% said they would consider a premium brand priced more than $45,000. And 84.8% in that income category said they would consider one priced above $35,000.

The phone survey of 573 people who said they planned to buy a sport-utility vehicle within six months was conducted the week of Oct. 30 and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

The survey indicates there's room for substantial growth in upscale sport-utility vehicles, said Art Spinella, CNW VP-general manager, but he noted that could change if they lose their trendiness. Among households in the $100,000-plus category, 97.2% said they like the image sport-utility vehicles project.

"Land Rover has a big area to defend, but they've put down a good foundation," Mr. Spinella said. "The heritage of the nameplate plays pretty well in the luxury segment."

"A lot of [luxury brands] are dabbling in four-wheel-drive, because that's where the money is," Mr. Grace said. "It remains to be seen whether these brands will be able to thrive, considering that it's not part of their roots."

That's exactly what Land Rover hopes to communicate with a campaign that broke in November. One magazine spread, for instance, shows vehicles alongside elephants and a rhinoceros, with the headline, "Think we have tough competition now? You should have seen it 50 years ago."

The campaign uses exotic jungle and desert locations and a touch of wry wit, as illustrated by one new spot in which elephants soap off a muddy Land Rover Discovery. The campaign also is aimed at clearing any confusion about the Land Rover and Range Rover names, both sold at Land Rover dealers.

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