Out with the old, in with the new.
Redesigning an off-road icon like the Land Rover Defender from the ground up can be no easy feat. That could be why the British manufacturer has been taking its time on this project. But once it's finally ready, the new Defender will, technologically speaking, emerge lightyears ahead of the bare-bones, old-school workhorse that it'll eventually replace.
“Technology is going to be mandatory in the new Defender. You simply can’t build this kind of vehicle without it anymore. You can’t achieve the emissions levels and you cannot achieve the CO2 levels required of vehicles these days," Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth told CarAdvice.
That means the new Defender will likely pack all the latest driver-assistance and safety technologies that the old one was so sorely lacking. But it'll also need to appeal to a much wider audience, and adopt a completely fresh design – contrary to the approach taken by the new Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes G-Class.
“I think it’s a very interesting approach to keep designing the same vehicle but move ahead with new technology inside, but at the end of the day it’s only a halfway approach," proclaimed Speth. “To be really relevant while using the latest technology, and to hit all our environmental targets, we can’t keep looking back."
After nearly 40 years of the original Series I, Series II, and Series III, Land Rover launched the Defender in 1983, and kept it in production until last year when it finally put the old horse to pasture. By that point, though, sales had plummeted nearly to a point of irrelevance. Where Land Rover sold over 9,000 Defenders in Europe in 2004, sales dropped to around 1,000 per year in the earlier part of this decade. The case was even worse in the vital US market, where LR moved a record 2,500 Defenders in 1997 before pulling the model from these shores the following year.
The automaker showed the DC100 concepts in 2011 to preview the Defender's replacement, but lukewarm response forced it back to the drawing table. Now it's working on an all-new design which it aims to spin off into a full range of models to stand in parallel to the Discovery and Range Rover families. The first of them is expected to launch a couple of years from now, and Land Rover hopes to sell a good 100,000 of them each year once production ramps up. Last year it sold 442,508 vehicles around the world, 126,078 of which were examples of the new Discovery Sport that's become the brand's best seller.