The Land Rover Defender can trace its roots back to the original Land Rover Series of 1948. But the British company is now at work on a replacement, called Project Icon.
And the name hints at how hard an act to follow the Defender is, which might explain why Land Rover has not tried to replace it before now. More likely, however, is that Land Rover, now owned by India’s Tata Motors, has had higher priorities — although to many the Defender is Land Rover, the vehicle actually accounts for a relatively small amount of the company’s sales and isn’t a big profit earner.
So why now? Well, Land Rover is undergoing a resurgence and laws and regulation will make it impossible for the current Defender to be sold beyond 2015. Even now the Defender is unable to be sold in many of the world’s largest markets, including the USA, due to it not meeting local safety rules. A new Defender is important to the sales volumes JLR needs to be viable, long term. With parent Tata having a strong presence in some of the globe’s fastest developing markets — it’s own domestic market included — the company is now better positioned than ever to exploit the potential from marketing a basic but rugged utility vehicle. Rather than the Jeep Wrangler or Mercedes G-Wagen, the Defender’s real competition is utility vehicles and pick ups from Toyota, Nissan, Ford and GM, all of which sell in huge numbers worldwide.
The new Defender, as yet unnamed, is likely to be based on the T5 steel chassis used in the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover Sport. The second of these will leave this platform for its next version, adopting instead the aluminium based monocoque construction of the next Range Rover, which is likely to be the next major Jaguar Land Rover model released in 2012. Due to this switch to aluminium, the next Range Rover and Range Rover Sport are expected to be 500kg lighter than the cars they replace, improving economy and emissions.
Which will leave the Discovery and new Defender using the body on chassis construction method of the T5, which is favoured for rugged vehicles due to the forces put on the car when towing or crossing rough terrain. Still, the existing T5 ladder frame chassis will still need to go on a diet to lose some of its bulk. In this task it is handy that Tata also owns one of the world’s largest steel companies, with expertise in high strength steels — the very latest of which can achieve great rigidity while being barely heavier than similar aluminium constructions.
The lighter T5 chassis will be able to support various wheelbase lengths, enabling not only the Discovery and Defender to be different in size, but for the latter to come in multiple configurations supporting domestic, leisure, commercial, industrial and military use.
Speaking of the military, don’t expect Land Rover to go wooing the world’s armies for large Defender sales. Although the current model can often be seen in khaki or desert sand colours, the needs of the military have changed and favoured now for field use are much heavier, armoured troop carriers rather than hugely vulnerable vehicles like the Land Rover.
Engines are likely to come from the JLR stable, the mainstay being a version of the TDV6 3.0 fitted to the Discovery and prepared for extreme off road use. However, with JLR having recently agreed a joint venture to develop smaller engines with Tata, it could be that a four cylinder 2.0 – 2.5 litre diesel and a similar sized petrol engine could find their way into the next Defender as well as Tata’s commercial vehicles.
Other than what we report here, little is known about the new Defender and JLR is keeping tight lipped. However, we can expect mules to be seen out testing soon ahead of a possible late 2014 launch, with details slowly emerging before then as to what the much anticipated result of Project Icon will be.