If it weren’t for tightening global safety and emission regulations, the iconic Land Rover Defender might not be going under the knife this year for the first time since 1983. It was just that good, and was after all, the original Land Rover, the vehicle that laid the ground work for the entire company way back in 1948.
But while the Defender transcended generations, the auto industry become cleaner and safer. Word of Defender's long awaited redesign comes this year largely because of the shrinking number of markets around the world where it can still legally be sold -- Americans haven’t been able to purchase a new Defender since 1997 due to a lack of mandatory airbags. So here we are:
Project Icon as it’s aptly known, is under secret development and set for a 2012 or 2013 launch. The new Defender will ride on the T5 steel platform chassis used on the Discovery and Range Rover Sport models, meaning Land Rover will be able to continue offering the Defender in a variety of forms, including hard/soft tops and truck/cab versions. Upgrades are to include an all-independent suspension, available with both steel and air springs and a new 5.0-liter V-8. Juicy as the upgrades may be, the whole operation is one of high stakes.
“(Defender) is our heritage,” said Land Rover Managing Director, Phil Popham. “It underlines our history, our origins, our engineering credibility and leadership, and it’s passed on a lot of positive things to the products that followed.”
“The dilemma we’ve got as a company, when it comes to replacing an icon like Defender, is you’re replacing a car that is known throughout the world and has been for 61 years, but its sells 25,000 units a year – not a lot in the automotive industry and not a lot within our portfolio of products at the moment,” he said.
“You've got to sell a lot more than 25,000 vehicles off a new platform to make business sense.”
When asked just how many more Defenders the world would need to consume, Popham said: “If you significantly simplify it on a modern platform, you still need to sell about 50,000 units a year to make it viable.” (2)
Popham believes nearly doubling worldwide Defender sales is doable because the current model is not sold in countries where it doesn’t meet various regulations. A modernized Defender would open up more markets, including the United States.
Still, purists might be rightfully worried that because the new Defender design was prompted by safety and emission standards, it’s likely to lose much of its legendary functionality. But Popham said the new edition should be even more capable than the old.
“Before 2013 we need to be very certain and have planned what the replacement for that product is. We’ll be really tuning up the versatility side and practicality side. That for me is the core (Defender attribute),” he said. (2)