The current Defender – a vehicle that can trace its roots back to 1948 – will cease production in a little over two years’ time due to tightening safety and emissions regulations in Europe.
Land Rover director of programs Murray Dietsch insists the brand is unwavering in its commitment to continuing the Defender legacy with an all-new model.
“At a very senior level in the company there is an overwhelming desire to have Defender continue in some form in the future,” Diestch says, “and it’s not just a view that’s shared by one person, there’s an enormous number of people in the company that want to see Defender continue.
“Could you have a Land Rover company without having Defender in it? The answer is no.”
While expected to launch early in the second half of the decade, Dietsch admits the new Defender may not be ready in time to directly replace its predecessor, potentially leaving a hole in the company’s line-up.
“We’ve not made the connection to when its successor will be available and when the current car ceases production … and it would be premature for us to do that,” he said.
“You’ve got to keep in mind that Defender, while … we sell cars in 177 countries around the world, we don’t sell Defender in 177 countries … so having it directly linked is possibly ideal but not imperative.”
Dietsch says while the current Defender is unable to be sold in some markets – notably North America – the new model will meet global standards and won’t face any constraints.
“Any new product we would not want to limit ourselves from the 177 markets that we sell into, so we would develop anything new without any restrictions on it,” he said.
Land Rover says Defender sales have continued to tick along at approximately 20,000 units per year for the past five years, and Dietsch says even at that level it remains profitable for the company, admitting it would be “silly” to build the car at a loss.
While acknowledging that Land Rover stands to make considerably more money from vehicles like the Range Rover Evoque – which topped 100,000 global sales last year, more than any Land Rover in one calendar year in history – Dietsch says sales numbers are only a small part of the Defender story.
“It’s probably more about the brand reputation and what we do with Defender than actually market penetration,” he said.
“There’s not talk of let’s cut our losses or anything like that. Defender is quintessentially Land Rover. We think it’s a product that Land Rover can’t do without.”
The exact form the new model will take remains largely unknown, though Land Rover global brand director John Edwards poured cold water on the suggestion Defender would branch out to become its own sub-brand like the luxury Range Rover division, instead remaining a Land Rover brand model.