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Is The Defender Done?

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Posted On: Jul 29, 2011 By: Charles Kayajian Category: Land Rover News

A report today from AutoExpress regarding the possible discontinuation of the Land Rover Defender has many Rover loyalists in complete disbelief.

In an exclusive interview with Collin Green, Managing Director of Land Rover UK, AutoExpress uncovered the uncertain future of Land Rover’s storied four-wheeler. Despite its iconic status, Defender sales are limited to a small market, most frequently purchased by farmers, rescue organizations, and the occasional enthusiast. As it currently stands, Defender production doesn’t look to be very profitable for the company.

It appears Land Rover is evaluating three options as it considers the future of the Defender:


Land Rover has given thought to remodeling the Defender, constructing the new truck on a Range Rover Sport platform. This approach could be dangerous, as consumers have come to expect a certain standard from the Defender. Green acknowledged this: “If we get it wrong we are messing up one of the industry’s biggest icons, and in that sense it’s a tremendous responsibility.” Yes. Pretty much.

Remodeling the Defender on a Range Rover Sport platform would attempt to increase the Defender's appeal with a broader audience, but doing this incorrectly could have disastrous consequences for the brand. If Land Rover can retain the Defender’s character and increase its consumer base with a new design, than this course could be the best option. However, melding the raw, rugged utilitarianism of the Defender with some of the posh luxury of “mainstream” Rovers would be extremely challenging, if not downright impossible, and Land Rover knows this.


Green mentioned that the Defender could be fitted with new Euro VI engines, allowing them to pass the new emission standards of 2016. The description here was vague, though this seems like the best possible option from an enthusiast’s perspective.

Reworking the Defender engines to meet new emissions standards has huge implications for the U.S. Rover market. Defender diesels under Euro V standards are not compliant with United States emission standards. Beginning in 2016 the UK will be forced to meet a new set of emissions standards – Euro VI. As we have previously reported, Euro VI emissions standards are fully compliant with US standards which means a Defender equipped with a Euro VI diesel could be sold in the States. The U.S. represents a large market opportunity and one that has been deprived from Defender ownership for years. Unfortunately, the U.S. economic environment is not conducive to spending large money on impractical toys. Rover would be making a gamble by investing in a new Euro VI engine and depending on U.S. consumers for sales.*


The least appealing option, not just for fans. “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.”

Retiring the Defender seems to be a worst-case scenario, but the fact that Land Rover would mention the thought publicly hints to the amount of money the company must be losing on this model. All enthusiasts cringe at the thought of the Defender being discontinued, even if American consumers haven’t seen the vehicle in years. The emotional reaction evoked from this news is a testament to what the Defender means to Land Rover


Rover is in a tough place here. The Defender is wildly popular among Rover enthusiasts and important to Land Rover culture. Its tremendous capabilities and rich heritage are the spirit of the Rover brand. Unfortunately, its popularity is not reflected in overall sales making Defender production difficult to sustain. With Land Rover branding strategy shifting its focus to newer models (see: Range Rover Evoque), the Defender represents the linchpin of old school Rover authenticity. Land Rover needs to find a way to keep The Defender alive - they can’t afford not to.

* (Unless Land Rover guaranteed sales through a long-term contract with militaries, fire departments, search and rescue or other public sector organizations that could utilize government subsidies… just a thought)

What do you think Land Rover should do with the Defender? Let us know!

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