12 months into retirement and the Defender has yet to get far from the headlines.
It’s been just over a year since the final Land Rover Defender rolled off the JLR production line in Solihull. However the news of the venerable 4×4 icon hasn’t stopped- indeed there has been more buzz than ever. First JLR announced plans to switch to a restoration line, keeping seven decades’ worth of existing machines running- a move that makes somewhat more business sense when considering the auction of the 2 millionth Defender at Bonhams for £400,000 in 2015. Whether the Defender will remain the functional car of its roots or become a must-have fashion statement for collectors, there is clearly plenty of money in the vast stockpile of Defenders still at work around the UK.
In September two news stories broke: the new 2018 ‘Defender’ model was announced- prompting immediate accusations of a cynical marketing move by JLR- given that the design resembled far more closely the luxury executive tractors more famous for clogging suburban commuter routes than for sporting the slightest speck of mud. The new car will- tellingly- be of far lighter aluminium constructions than the traditional Defender suggesting a clear step away from off-road capability and toward the middle class commuter market (although many also suggest a move to break into the immensely profitable Chinese and Russian car markets)- although of course JLR vigorously rejects such claims. Whether this will signal the amalgamation of Discovery or Range Rover into the Defender brand, or whether the glossy new ‘designer’ Defender comes with any more off-road nouse than its famously-floundering cousins, remains to be seen- however whatever is said of the new model, it won’t be made in Britain.
At the end of September things got more surreal. Ralf Speth, a JLR executive, proceeded to attack EU car buyers for perceived snubs to his company’s cars over the Brexit vote- a surprising move considering that EU legislation partly killed off the Defender’s rugged character- for instance the ban on side-facing seats that came in in 2007. Speth suggested a bleak future for JLR amid industry-wide concerns over tariffs.
Into 2017 and news keeps rolling. An accident in their factory cost an unfortunate worker his leg- and JLR almost £1 million in compensation. As if this wasn’t the worst news the execs at JLR have to contend with, news breaking today suggests there might be a ‘true’ heir to the Defender on the way- made by (of all people) a chemical giant named Ineos. The $40bn, Hampshire-based multinational has staked a claim to the gap in the market left by the loss of a rugged, no-frills 4×4. Following a 6 month feasibility study the company has announced it will be investing ‘many hundreds of millions’ in the new car. To be built with the US and African markets in mind, the exact nature of the car remains shrouded in secrecy- with suggestions whether it might closely reflect an early Defender design or be a whole new machine.
2017 promises to be an exciting year for 4×4 enthusiasts, although whether JLR execs will be having as much fun following the news is perhaps less likely.