On our website we ran a story a little while ago on the upcoming Land Rover Defender replacement vehicle. The report basically said the following:
The eventual Defender replacement won’t look a lot like the DC100 concept vehicle that Land Rover unveiled a couple of years ago. Whatever vehicle replaces the iconic Landy will apparently be closer in philosophy to the Defender. Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern stated that the company will not be sticking to the DC100, and will be going in a very different direction when it comes to the future of the Defender. ”I wouldn’t take note of those concept vehicles we did a couple of years ago,” said McGovern.
McGovern also told Car & Driver that: ” You’ll get versions that are very elemental in terms of what’s inside them, but you’ll have the ability to move it up and make it more premium, but it’ll be durable premium.”
This all sounds fairly promising, but it didn’t convince “Macafrican”, one of our online readers. Macafrican left the following comment at the bottom of the article, which I’ll share here verbatim.
It’s fairly simple, one needs:
3 diff locks
Good depart / arrive / crossover angles
Window height wading
1500km fuel range
100 liter water capacity
In other words they have no clue how to deliver such a vehicle because only 100 people a year need it and none of them are footballer wives.
Macafrican makes a good point, of course. Every 4×4 enthusiast knows what a decent off-road vehicle needs. A good trail vehicle/overlander does indeed need solid axles, multiple diff locks, excellent ground clearance, good wading depth, reliable components and an ability to travel vast distances without visiting a fuel pump.
If manufacturers really wanted to build excellent uncompromising off-roaders, it wouldn’t be difficult.
But, as Macafrican accurately states, there simply isn’t enough money to be made in hardcore 4x4s. While the market for cutesy crossovers and luxury SUVs are mushrooming, the market for pukka 4x4s is shrinking. Never mind solid axles and diff locks, modern SUVs are increasingly being sold without even four-wheel drive, since so few owners actually ever take their vehicles off road.
Unlike, Macafrican, however, I am a bit more optimistic about the new Defender. Perhaps “optimistic” is too strong a word – I think Land Rover has a tough task ahead of it – but I least think the company is heading in the right direction.
Based on McGovern’s statement that “you’ll get versions that are very elemental in terms of what’s inside them, but you’ll have the ability to move it up”, it seems as if Land Rover is taking the only reasonable (and potentially profitable) course of action in creating a new Defender.
It would seem to me that any new Defender would need to achieve four things: it would, of course, need to be off-road capable. And it would have to be relatively cheap – not massively more expensive than the current Defender. It would also need to respect the heritage of this iconic 4×4, and at least in some way identify itself as the spiritual successor to the Defender. Finally, it would need to be potentially profitable, which means that its appeal must be broad enough to attract buyers who have no intention of ever venturing into the bundu.
Creating a single vehicle that can accomplish all four things will be no easy task. Creating a vehicle that conforms to, say, three of these requirements would be relatively easy. But all four? It is a near-impossible undertaking. Making something that is affordable, capable and also resembles the Defender of old, yet still appeals to all those mainstream crossover buyers will not be easy.
If you appease the Defender buyers it will be too basic and off-road biased for mainstream buyers, and if you try to build a vehicle with wide appeal, it will be too expensive, plush and road focused for hardcore Defender fans.
This is why I think Land Rover is taking the best approach. McGovern’s statement suggests a vehicle that could be a basic off-roader, but also a plush little SUV with enough electronics and comfort features to attract buyers of modern crossovers.
It will be interesting to see how far the company takes this idea, because, in my opinion, a sort of modular design that allows buyers to pick and choose their components is the best way forward when it comes to the future of hardcore 4×4 design. Why not make front and rear diff locks optional extras? And why not give potential buyers the option of swopping out an independent front suspension (IFS) with a live axle.
I think this is the only forward when it comes to the Defender, and I think it’s also the only solution for other hardcore 4x4s, such as the Jeep Wrangler. How long until the Wrangler loses its solid axles? Sure, Wrangler fans will have a fit, but those who simply drive Wranglers because they are fashionable and fun won’t have a problem with an IFS. And these buyers make up the majority of sales. For pukka 4x4s to remain a viable proposition for manufacturers, they need to become modular in nature, configurable to do their best work either on dirt or tar.