CarAdvice spoke with two of the best-placed people in the British 4x4 company's ranks – Land Rover design director and chief creative officer, Gerry McGovern, and newly appointed JLR group engineering director, Nick Rogers – at the 2015 New York auto show, and they had plenty to say, but not too a whole lot to give away, about the new Land Rover Defender, which was presaged by the DC100 concept (pictured) in 2013.
“It’s an awesome challenge, isn’t it? It’s fantastic. I mean, it absolutely replaces another icon,” said Rogers.
“We’ve got to do the right thing. You’ve always got to make sure you do the right thing and create the right focus,” he said of the replacement model for the Defender, which will end its 65-year production run this year.
“It’s going to be a challenge, to hit the right spot, absolutely,” he said.
Rogers is an avid Land Rover enthusiast – he has a collection of Defender models, and is a member of several clubs around the UK – and he said he knows that it’s going to be hard to please everyone with the new model.
“I actually belong to a few of the clubs – I understand some of the feedback,” he said. “I genuinely didn’t make it up – I learned to drive in a Land Rover when I was a kid, so I’ve got a really good feeling about all it can be, and Gerry [McGovern] and myself are very closely aligned on that.”
McGovern reflected on the past of the Defender, but being a designer his focus is always on how to move things forward.
“One of the reasons why it’s loved so much is because it’s so familiar – it’s been around for 65 years. It’s like your grandmother, or a sofa, or a piece of [furniture] – it’s always been there, and with familiarity, sometimes it breeds contempt. Sometimes it can breed affection.
“The reality is we can’t design a car like that anymore – due to legislation, it’s built using manufacturing techniques that are archaic, all of those things,” he said.
Gerry McGovern with one of the Land Rover DC100 concept models.
McGovern did, however, confirm that like the existing Defender, there will be different variants to choose from.
“Let me just say this – the new generation of Defender – there will be a family of them. I’m not going to tell you what they are, but there will be a family. That’s for you to deduct from that,” he said.
While it seems unlikely the new model will follow the current credence – a three-door version (90, short wheelbase) five-door (110, long wheelbase) wagon, and a 110 cab-chassis – McGovern admitted that the new version has to be what today’s buyers want it to be, not what it has been in the past.
“The most important thing is relevance. They need to be relevant to a world that’s changed massively from when the original Defender was created.
“I think it’s the biggest design challenge [I’ve had]. I’m not going anywhere until that’s done,” McGovern said, before posing a hypothetical question to the assembled Australian media.
“If you think about Defender, and if it had actually had of changed like most vehicles through a natural cycle, say for our types of vehicles every 10 years, through 60 years, if you’d designed a new vehicle every 10 years, what would it be like today?
“That, in a way, is the answer. In a way, that’s what I’ve said we need to create. So it needs to be thoroughly modern, it needs to be relevant – but it needs to capture the essence of the original, and the honesty of it,” he said.
One thing that both McGovern and Rogers agree on is that off-road capability is a huge factor in the appeal of the new model.
“It’ll be great. It will be incredibly durable. It has to be even more capable than the original. That’s the price of entry. It will be the real deal,” McGovern said.
He went further, describing the current crop of ute-based SUVs – such as the Ford Ranger and Everest – as being so different to the Defender that it’s like comparing a “Patek Phillipe with a Timex”.
Rogers said that Defender tragics expect it to be the best-ever Land Rover when it comes to the rough stuff.
“It’s got to be the best off-road, doesn’t it?” he posited.
“I’ve spent many a Saturday evening with club members be it in various locations around the UK, and been given thoughts and wisdom.
“At the end of the day, the guys that love Defender – as long as it’s got that pioneering spirit, as long as it’s incredible off-road, as long as it’s a stunning vehicle – they’ll be happy. That’s all they want it to be. They want it to be awesome. And so do we.”
As for whether there’ll be that ultra practical cab-chassis ute, we’d suggest it’s unlikely. But some form of pick-up style Defender may still be a possibility.
“You’ve always got to think when you reinvent an icon, which sort of essence of the icon do you take, and move on,” Rogers said.
“You’re moving on something that’s going to be a 21st
century, very modern vehicle. So it’s always important to pick up the right cues of how that vehicle evolves,” he added.
When asked directly if there will be a ute style model, he said “you’ll have to see, won’t you?”.
It’s obvious that the new Defender has a big job ahead of it – and it will be more focused on achieving sales volumes that the current model has never hit.
However, Rogers coolly replied to a question about whether it will be a profitable model line or not.
“If the product is cool, you make money,” he said. “I promise not to disappoint you.”