Jaguar Land Rover global operations director Phil Popham told CarAdvice that the new-generation Defender model - which was previewed in 2011 by the DC100 concept and is expected to be revealed in 2015 in production form - has its work cut out for it.
"There’s plenty of challenges in replacing an icon that’s been there for 66 years," Popham said. "But it’s probably the most exciting project you could think of.
"The Defender has been here for a long time: the complexity of its duty cycle, the 117 derivatives that we’ve had of the car; when you’ve got to replace that with volume on a modern platform it comes with considerable cost," he said.
"We’ve actually got to make sure we do that properly. It’s a huge responsibility on the engineers and designers to replace the icon. We’ll do it, and we’re confident we’ll have the most capable vehicle in the world.
"Defender will be a family of vehicles. It’s not about size," he said.
When asked if the brand will keep utility vehicles as part of that range, Popham suggested that it was likely, due to the current model selling in high numbers in the dual-cab pickup style version which could be based on a rugged ladder-frame chassis rather than a more car-like monocoque frame.
"We’ve got to look at capability, we’ve got to look at weight. You can get incredible torsional rigidity on different technologies now. Load carrying capacity is always a challenge when you’re making a utility vehicle. Almost certainly the future Defender will need more than one technical solution for a range of vehicles," he said.
"We’re not ruling out any technical solution or platform solutions," Popham reiterated. "Defender is due to end its life at the end of next year. And certainly we’ll let you know what we’re doing with Defender before that. We certainly won’t let it get beyond that before telling you what we’re doing with Defender.
Popham gave a good indication of how he sees Defender fitting into the brand's rapidly expanding ranks.
"Land Rover’s benefits ... are luxury, versatility and capability – all Land Rovers have those attributes. But we dial up luxury on Range Rover, we’ll dial up versatility on the Discovery family of vehicles, and we’ll dial up capability on the Defender family of vehicles," he said.
Expect more news on the next-generation Defender in 2015.