Defender to get re-born

STEPHEN OTTLEY
Last updated 10:57 25/08/2011
Land Rover's Defender.
RE-BORN: Land Rover's Defender.

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The iconic Land Rover Defender will be re-born for the 21st century with an all-new model already under development. Land Rover officials confirmed that work was underway to totally overhaul the go-anywhere off-roader after more than 60 years of service.

The company will unveil a concept at September's Frankfurt motor show that is expected to be direct indication of what the next production model will look like.

Improved on-road driving dynamics and safety are two of the biggest changes but the company is adamant that it will remain a true off-roader.

Phil Popham, Director Group Sales Operations for Jaguar Land Rover, confirmed that a new Defender was part of the company's new product plan.

"It's not realistic to continue with the current platform any longer," Popham said.

"We will replace it," he added. "We have a plan to replace all of our cars and potentially introduce additional ones. [It's a] very, very aggressive product plan for the future."

The project is being overseen by Australian engineer Murray Dietsch. The former Ford Australia employee is now director of Land Rover programmes, which means he is in charge of not only the Defender but also the Freelander,  Discovery and the Range Rover Evoque and Sport models.

Dietsch admitted he and his team are determined to ensure the Defender lives on despite rumours that it would be dropped given it s lacklustre sales. The company says it only sells 20,000 globally and isn't available in the company's two biggest markets, the USA and China.

"We've been working on Defender for a while," Dietsch said. "The company's pretty serious about it.

"We're working on it and we're making sure that whatever we produce in the future is not going to dilute what Defender really stands for. So it needs to be authentic. If someone's going to get in the car they're going to want to get in the car and so stuff with it and say ‘I don't want it to break, I want it to go places that other things won't take me to.'"

Popham insisted that even though it will become more mainstream it will continue to be a unique offering.

"You can't replace an icon with a me-too car," he said. "So expect it to be different. Defender created a segment and it's going to have to do it again."

He is adamant too that there remains a demand for a serious off-roader despite the trend towards city friendly SUVs.

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"We believe there is a very big market for it as an icon but also as a practical vehicle," Popham said.

"I don't think it needs to be any better off-road," he said. "It needs to be significantly better on-road. More car-like in terms of its features. We can't do that with old technology. Everything you expect on a modern platform we would need to do."

But while the mechanicals are set for a major overhaul the design is expected to remain close to the original. Trying to replace the famous shape has reportedly got the design team at Land Rover inspired.

"The most exciting project that our designers have worked on is Evoque and they're more excited about Defender than they are about Evoque, because they are replacing an icon," Popham said.

"It's a fantastic project to have, to replace one of these most recognizable vehicles in the world."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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