In replacing the current Defender, it has been widely speculated that Land Rover would have to consider two options; either updating the current Defender’s construction with modern safety and emissions equipment, or create a new model on a platform that shares key components with other Land Rover models. Many have suggested that the latter course of action was the one already being taken and that work on the new model was underway. Surprisingly however, in the recent interview, Colin Green, has suggested that there’s a chance the model could be killed altogether. 'Another option [in replacing the current Defender] is that we abandon that section of the market.' he said in a recent interview. 'It’s our least preferred choice, because we have serviced that customer base for a long time, but there’s no point in servicing the customer and not the business. We have to make money and all three options are on the table.'
Re-engineer, replace or kill? It's a serious and genuine dilemma for Land Rover; The Defender - arguably, the Land Rover - is an automotive icon and the successor to the vehicle that actually built the brand. It is the one that stays true (as far as legislation and progress permits) to the original Land Rover principles and design unlike any other Land Rover product.
Whether the Defender fits with Land Rover’s current range of vehicles that combine modern electronics, advanced design, premium amenities and, almost as an afterthought, great off-road ability is another question altogether. What really matters is whether Land Rover can make enough money from the manufacture of Defenders for it to be worthwhile to continue? The Defender, largely unchanged since 1984 and not dissimilar to Land Rover models dating back more than sixty years, needs to be reengineered by 2016 so that it continue to be sold in Europe. As emissions, fuel economy, and crash regulations become ever more stringent, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the current design to meet those statutes and be sold as a consumer vehicle. An example of this was the dropping of the model from Land Rover’s US range after 1997 because it wasn't equipped with airbags.
Brand purists and off-roaders such as LRO's readership are likely to be outraged but it's easy to understand where Colin Green’s point of view comes from. Decisions have to be made about whether any 'new' Defender should be designed to make the new model appeal to a wider cross section of car buyers than the current today’s customer base? Green seems to understand this, saying, 'If we get this wrong, we’re messing up one of the industry’s biggest icons. In that sense, it’s a tremendous responsibility.' There's also issues of whether a 'new' Defender would be good enough - and right enough - to be worthy of the prestigious nameplate?
Die-hard Defender afficianados should take heart from the fact that Jeep have successfully dealt with the same problem with the vehicle that gave the brand its name. And that Triumph reinvented the Bonneville... And BMW the Mini, despite the fact that the niche group of individuals - like myself - that bought, loved and lived the originals will never stop voicing their opinions of outrage and protestations that, 'the original was by far the best.' Rightly or wrongly we now live in a world where brands dominate so who'd throw away a brand as strong as the Defender, a byword for sturdy go-anywhere, toughness - I mean would Levis stop making blue jeans?
UPDATE: 04.08.11; despite recent reports (above) suggesting that the Land Rover Defender could be dropped, the rumour mill is now suggesting that a concept version of a completely redesigned Defender could be unveiled as early as September 2011 at the important Frankfurt Auto Show.