Is there going to be a new Defender? The vehicle has been so long in the making that some Land Rover enthusiasts are starting to wonder. At this point, it is not a stretch to say that it has been a point of discussion for decades. As we continue to wait, it’s worth it to look at a few of the reasons why we haven’t seen the successor to one of the world’s most iconic vehicles yet.
Above: A new Defender Driveline test mule, using a modified Range Rover body as camouflage.
Land Rover Doesn’t Do Concepts Anymore
In January 2008, the LRX concept debuted at the Detroit Auto Show, with photos released in late 2007. The concept was the precursor to the Range Rover Evoque and debuted the design cues that carried through the rest of the lineup over the next decade. The production Evoque was announced in early 2009 and went on sale in late 2011 – four years after the debut of the very similar concept car.
In that time, the Chinese manufacturer Landwind had plenty of headway to begin designing a rip-off on the concept, which they released in August 2015. Selling at a quarter of the price of the Evoque in China, it was debuted at the same Guangzhou Auto Show where the Evoque was released into the Chinese market in November 2014. Land Rover tried to sue Landwind in China, but since intellectual property laws are not as strong there as in Europe and North America, it didn't get too far.
Land Rover’s Design Director Gerry McGovern has used this situation as the case for why there will no longer be concept cars, especially concepts of major new design themes. The years between concept and reality give a knockoff a strong head-start, while the few months between unveiling a production vehicle and having it land in dealerships allows the original to create far more market share until the imitators can catch up.
The Factory Isn’t Ready Yet
The new Defender is rumored to be built alongside the Discovery 5 at Jaguar Land Rover’s new factory in Nitra, Slovakia. The factory is supposed to go online very soon, and by the end of 2018, all Discovery 5s could be made there. The famous Lode Lane factory in Solihull, England will then only build the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Velar, and Jaguar F-Pace. (The Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque are made in another factory in Halewood, close to Liverpool.)
Since the new factory in Slovakia won’t be settled in until 2019, and there wasn’t really room at Solihull, the Defender has to wait until it has somewhere to be built. The factory in Nitra has a capacity right now of 150,000 vehicles, so there is plenty of room to build both Discovery and Defender.
The Platform is All-New
JLR is transitioning to a new modular architecture for all of its vehicles with both brands in the future, dubbed Modular Longitudinal Architecture (MLA). Every Land Rover and Jaguar model will be built on this platform, as opposed to the seven they use right now between the two brands. The Defender is going to be one of the first vehicles to use MLA, which will underpin every JLR vehicle by 2024.
Ironically, the original Defender was built on a bit of a modular platform itself. The traditional boxy design of the Series Land Rovers was placed on a modified Range Rover Classic chassis in the early 1980s. This same layout underpinned the Discovery 1 a few years later, which also used significant sections of the Range Rover's steel inner body shell. Drivetrains were also shared to a large degree between the three models. Many parts for these vehicles are interchangeable or even have the same part number.
They Went Back to the Drawing Board
In 2011, Land Rover released the DC100 concept to show their vision for the future of the Defender. It was widely and viciously panned as an unworthy successor and apparently caused them to go back to the drawing board to design the replacement. How much different it will actually be is still unknown, but the photos of the 2011 concept that still float around the Internet likely don't reflect the final vehicle.
The New Evoque Took Precedence in 2018
Though die-hard Land Rover enthusiasts will cringe to see the Defender's potential launch in the 70th anniversary year one-upped by its antithesis in the lineup, the high-volume Range Rover Evoque is now seven years old and due for an update. While nostalgia and tradition are good, the Evoque pays a lot of the bills these days. It's likely that the new version (with some design cues from the Range Rover Velar) will be released in the next few months to rejuvenate that market, pushing the Defender launch into 2019 to prevent them from stealing each others' thunder.
What We Do Know
According to a presentation to investors in June, the new Defender is due to launch in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, and a reveal in late 2019 is likely. Testing has begun, and driveline test vehicles with hacked-up Range Rover Sport bodies have been spotted in England. They seem to ride higher than a Range Rover, and one of the rigs had some relatively meaty tires. The new vehicle won't be quite like the old one -- no bolt-together construction, likely no manual transmission, and a "polarizing design." Nonetheless, it's on the way, and soon enough we will have the answer to a question we've been asking since at least the 1990s.
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