Land Rover gets ready to Defend its position

editorial image

Whither and hither now, Defender, born plain Land-Rover in 1948 and this year showing putative changes to your boxy shape and farmyard manners.

The Land Rover we know was teased out of a shape drawn in the sand on Anglesey by Maurice Wilks, chief designer at Rover. who wanted to replace the battered US Army jeep he had been using on the Welsh farm.

His Land Rover was premiered at the Amsterdam Show and was a hit. They sold 8,000 in the first year and in the early 1950s were more popular than Rover’s other cars - finding buyers in the police, military and so on. Diesel power came in 1957. The legend was on its way. The body was made in aluminium because steel was in short supply and the light, rust-free alloy has been used ever since.

Last Autumn in Frankfurt the company, part of Jaguar Land Rover and now Indian-owned, began exhibiting ideas of what the Defender’s replacement could look like. The Concept 100 estate and open Sport models had their Indian debut this month at the New Delhi expo. We can expect top see the finished product in 2015 and it is a fair bet it will resemble the Concept 100 - currently said to be a “potential design direction”.

It is an awesome task - to replace something so pure and cherished with a contemporary design. The Defender/Concept 100 metamorphosis reminds me of the transition of the Mini from its 1959 design to BMW’s 21st century remake.

Jaguar Land Rover will enhance its image and give it a wider audience - and no doubt hike the price up, in line with other Land Rover and Range Rover models.

John Edwards, Land Rover global brand director commented: “The Defender has always been at the heart of the Land Rover brand and single-handedly defines our go-anywhere, can-do sprit. Our ambition is to create an all new Defender for a global market that remains absolutely faithful to its original DNA: tough, versatile, durable and capable. At the same time, it will be developed for the 21st century and adaptable for the needs of future generations.

“Our intention is to introduce the all new Defender in the middle of the decade - there’s a lot of work to do to meet these dates and our concepts are just the start of the journey.” Bon route.

Almost two million Defenders and their ancestors have been built and their resilience is proved by the (circa) 75 per cent still in use. The best year’s sale was 56,663 in 1970. In 2010 world sales were 18,121. In the United Kingdom the largest sales are in Devon, followed by Yorkshire. “Outstanding capability is cited by many as central to the Defender and something that Land Rover is absolutely committed to retaining in any replacement model,” said spokesman Kim Palmer. “We need a model that is relevant globally, that can make a solid business case by competing in the ‘utility’ sector of the SUV market place. In due course, current Defender will also not meet certain legislative requirements.”

The newcomer will have the advanced off-road technology used on all the other group models. The ergonomics of the Defender are antiquated and often awkward. The manual shifting between high and low ratio can be fumbly when under pressure - and the handbrake release position entails a long forward reach, which in my case needs too much upper body movement, by which time my chin is on the steering wheel - nearly. An automatic gearbox must be in the plan, too.