And here it is at 09.22 on 29th January, the last of the current Defenders comes off the production line @ Solihull pic.twitter.com/NjAzLcUi7Y
— Land Rover UK PR (@LandRoverUKPR) January 29, 2016
Solihull has been rammed with more than 700 guests this morning to witness Land Rover put the finishing touches to its last Defender.
Registered as H166 HUE, this was always going to be an object of worldwide desire, even if it wasn’t a soft-top Heritage Edition 90 – a tasteful nod to the Defender’s 1948 archetype, pre-production No.1, HUE 166 (aka ‘Huey’).
Driving off the assembly line and into the wheel and headlamp alignment bay at 9.25am, H166 HUE is now destined for JLR’s Heritage Collection. It’s just too precious to sell.
The last Defender was preceded down the line by an Autobiography Edition Defender with a Heritage Edition grill, a personal order for Jaguar Land Rover’s Group Engineering Director, Nick Rogers.
‘A vehicle that makes the world a better place’
‘Today we celebrate what generations of men and women have done since the outline for the Land Rover was originally drawn in the sand,’ said Jaguar Land Rover’s CEO, Dr Ralph Speth.
‘The Series Land Rover, now Defender, is the origin of our legendary capability, a vehicle that makes the world a better place, often in some of the most extreme circumstances. There will always be a special place in our hearts for Defender, among all our employees, but this is not the end. We have a glorious past to champion, and a wonderful future to look forward to.’
A future for the Defender?
So the final Defender is complete. The journalists are being kicked out the door, Solihull's ageing assembly line (some of whose tools date from the 1970s and earlier) will continue to be dismantled (they started a while back) and into most of this space Land Rover will expand its logistics operations for its other production lines. The company's sales figures dictate that future profits lie with monocoques, especially aluminium ones, not the body-on-chassis design that has underpinned its most utilitarian model since the earliest pre-production Series Is in 1947.
Although a handful of Defender specialists at Solihull are set to offer restorations of Defender and Series vehicles at the factory itself, under a new ‘Heritage Restoration’ programme announced today, it’ll be at least a couple of years before the Defender name reappears on new vehicles. When it does, it’ll be pinned to one of the most significant new models in Land Rover’s history.
‘Creating the Defender of tomorrow, a dream for any engineer or designer, is the next exciting chapter and we are looking forward to taking on that challenge,’ – so says JLR’s Group Engineering Director Nick Rogers. But all details about that vehicle are still top secret; test mules haven’t even been spotted yet. We can only speculate, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that the next Defender will bear any mechanical resemblance to its predecessor.
The hiatus isn’t good news for fleet users (think emergency services, utility companies, hire fleets…) who mostly look to buy new vehicles, still within their manufacturer’s warranty. Those that currently rely on Defenders will buy elsewhere. New pickups by Nissan, Toyota, Ford, VW, Mitsubishi are all available at much lower cost than the outgoing Defender. They’re not always best suited to the job in hand, but will Land Rover be able to win these customers back to the brand in a few years time with the next Defender? (Will they even want to?) Land Rover is taking a big gamble by ceasing Defender production completely while they develop the next model.
For the enthusiasts, the change will be a gradual one. Aftermarket accessories and OEM parts aren’t going anywhere either.
If you’re already an owner, take some comfort in the knowledge that second hand Defender and Series values will be stronger than ever. It’s a mixed blessing though; not great if you’re after a donor vehicle, or second hand spares.
Joining the Land Rover community will become an increasingly costly decision. Gone are the days when reasonable old thrashers can be picked up for a few hundred quid.
So this may be the end of the road for the Defender as we know it, but that’s never stopped a Land Rover before. Defenders all over the world will continue to be driven, modified, thrashed to death, painstakingly reincarnated from the chassis up and driven again… over and over, for decades to come.
The legend will live on, we’ll make sure of that.
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