Our good friends at Automotive News reported that after 40 years in production the dear old Lada Niva 4×4 is being radically revised.
If I had not seen one of the originals lately I’d possibly have ignored this news. And if I was not a fan of Suzuki’s gradualist approach to their re-working of the Jimny, I might not have thought too hard about this new design from Mr Steve Mattin’s team at Lada.
However I have thought about gradualism in the evolution of niche products like off-roaders, sports cars and luxury cars. And I have seen the current decades old Lada Niva. That means I think the decision to throw away the utilitarian heritage of the Niva was not really all that intelligent. Surviving four decades is not a sign of failure but a sign of success.
Maybe I misjudge the regular people of Russia but I think this proposal is not what they need to do hard work in tough conditions. It is merely a rather overstyled CUV where no opportunity has been missed to add a tab, inflection, chamfer or elaboration of some type. There is very conceivably a market for some thing this over-cooked but I don’t think it corresponds to the people who wanted the useful, rugged and simple Niva of yore.
ANE cites Mr Mattin: “”The original 4×4 was created over 40 years ago and the world has changed since then,” he said. “You only need to look in the city to see how many 4x4s there are. That wasn’t the case 40 years ago. They were only used in the countryside.”
That makes me think that this car is not really any kind of a replacement for the Niva (or 4×4 as Lada now calls it) but is serving entirely different market. Maybe Mr Mattin isn’t clear on that. The customers who wanted a cheap and tough car are now being offered an over-styled CUV with way too much decoration on it. This is like offering a sheep farmer in the Western Glens a Range Rover Evoque in place of a Defender. “It’s an icon and a legend. We have taken a lot of the design DNA and interpreted it in a modern way and incorporated it into our current design language,” said Mattin (as reported in ANE). Not so you can tell. Customers in the depths of Kriktuschikyai don´t give a stuff about design language and design DNA. They care about a car they afford to repair, can repair themselves and which won´t leave them to die in minus forty degrees by the side of the road.
I think Suzuki’s decision to hang on to the main ingredients of the Jimny shows a lot of confidence. Ditto Rolls-Royce’s slow changes along with Mazda’s MX-5 which is much the same as it ever was. It also makes me think that LR really ought to do as little as possible to make the Defender replacement compliant with modern standards. Will they go down the Jimny route or the Lada route?