Land Rover design chief, Gerry McGovern, has perhaps one of the most unenviable tasks in automotive design – designing an all-new version of the iconic Land Rover Defender.
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Speaking to Australian media at the Los Angeles Motor Show, McGovern suggested purists might not like what they see.

“I love the fact that all these people are enthusiastic about it,” McGovern said. “I appreciate that they’re the ones driving the euphoria but if they’re expecting to see a facsimile of the old one with all the latest tech added in, then I don’t think they’ll be satisfied.”

It’s the first time McGovern has been willing to discuss the iconic vehicle and its replacement, certainly to a motoring press keen to find out as much as they can about a vehicle that has legendary status off-road in Australia.

McGovern was keen to emphasise the fact that the all-new Defender will almost certainly become the backbone of the brand globally, and that it needed to be more capable off-road than the old model, while delivering levels of refinement, drivability and safety previously unheard of with the Defender nameplate.

Interestingly, McGovern was adamant the Defender must be relevant to buyers now, not hark back to the past to appeal to rusted on fans only.

“It must embrace new technology,” he said. “To be a success, it has to be relevant to future buyers.”

A lot of that ‘relevance’ McGovern refers to will lead to the sales success that Land Rover needs in a highly competitive global market. Over a period of 68 years, Land Rover sold just over two million Defenders.

“If you think of the Evoque over five to six years, it’s sold 700,000 units,” McGovern said. “In order to justify it’s investment, Defender will need to be a global vehicle. Future customers will not have any preconceived ideas about it, and in order to get people to come to the brand, customers will have to buy a Defender on its merit.”

"The form language, the design, has to reflect the age we live in," McGovern said. "Whatever we do has to have absolute integrity of design, sophisticated design and that is no different for the new Defender. It has to go through the same rigour in design and for me it has to be honest and true of a vehicle we are producing today."

McGovern however, doesn’t want enthusiasts to desert the brand though - quite the contrary. “It’s the most eagerly awaited vehicle launch in the automotive world, certainly judging by the number of times you’ve asked me about it,” he said. “And I would love enthusiasts to embrace the new Defender.”

While cheekily suggesting enthusiasts might not buy a new Defender because they already have one (or many) they love, McGovern once again confirmed he has no intention of creating a cartoon, retro version of the old one. “That said, I do think it is important to acknowledge the great heritage of the Defender in terms of capability, in terms of robustness, its durability - but not necessarily its visual quality.”

“You have to remember as it was built and evolved, the carmaker back then was like a cottage industry,” McGovern said. While he described the design as likely to polarise, McGovern said he and his team had made every effort not to think about the weight of redesigning an icon, and not get bogged down in the aspects of that, which might make the task impossible.

Above: The new Defender won't be a shrunken Defender

He also ruled out and kind of ‘filtered down’ styling that would see the new Defender look like a Discovery derivative, for example.

“Of course it won’t look like a new Discovery,” McGovern said. “It has to go through the same rigour in design and for me, it has to be honest and true for a vehicle we’re producing today and not preoccupied with what’s gone before.” McGovern also confirmed that there are fully working prototypes undergoing testing at the moment, although final design and engineering details may change before we see the finished 4WD.

What does he think of retro design as whole, then?

“To me a retrospective approach to design proves a lack of creativity,” McGovern said.

What are your hopes for the new Defender?