England Expects

A new Defender will be announced later this year. But is the case for it already holed beneath the waterline?

(c) Topgear.com

Some plans are simply better left in the realm of theory. One means of establishing this is to interrogate the fundamental necessity of the task, not to mention the level of enthusiasm that exists for both it and its likely conclusion – assuming a destination point has first been plotted. But some projects exert such a strong emotional pull that even if they fail the basic due diligence, the urge to press on regardless can overwhelm reason.

Furthermore, the longer one defers a difficult task, not only does it become more onerous to execute, but the clamour for it to take place amongst those who truly believe in it becomes a deafening bellow. In addition, one of the dangers of procrastination is that by the time the task has been initiated, the parameters may have shifted, giving rise to the action itself proving futile.

This is as much a truism for the automotive sector as it is for politics or indeed other walks of life, but in particular for Land-Rover, who have for years kicked the replacement of their cornerstone model far outside known boundary lines. Because in pragmatic business-rational terms, one wouldn’t necessarily replace a model as broadly irrelevant as the stirringly named Defender. Indeed there is a strong sense that were it not for strongly held emotional arguments within the business, the decision might have continued to be kicked into the wilds.

Truth be told, replacing the Defender has not been the highest of priorities at Gaydon, there being for some time now, other, more lucrative fish to fry. Complicating matters further was the fact that there seemed to be considerable uncertainty within JLR as to exactly what the nature of the new-generation Defender ought to be – aside from where it should be built or indeed whether it should be built at all.

Indeed, one might have thought carbuyers had moved on from the virtues offered by the Defender and its ilk – even amongst those who purchased them for their all-terrain capabilities. Its deeply austere charms seemed faded and for most, a slight loss of off-road functionality appeared a small price to pay for additional creature comforts and on-road refinement provided by LR’s more road-centric offerings.

But a significant factor in the Defender’s resilience in hearts and minds is perhaps tied to a growing sense of previously inviolate certainties spiralling out of control, a desire for the kind of capability in reverse that appeals to our latent inner survivalist, an urge for authenticity in a world of widespread illusion and fakery and, might one also be so bold as to suggest, a deep-rooted longing for a departed version of old Albion?

Land Rover’s product strategists certainly determined that the market for the type of austere, no-nonsense, all-terrain utility vehicle from which Land-Rover earned its carabiners was not going to create a viable business case, given the volumes the Defender was achieving towards the end of its production life.

But having first shown their hand (in concept form) in 2011, the ensuing backlash was said to have elicited the proverbial sharp intake of breath in that area of the Warwickshire countryside between Chadshunt and Bishops Itchington. But in the intervening period, not only had the outgoing Defender fallen victim to tightening efficiency and safety protocols, but the business case underwent a major rethink, along with, we’re told, the styling theme.

Now as heavily disguised prototypes ply Warwickshire’s lanes and the frigid wastes of the Arctic circle, the tealeaf prophecy is that the Defender, while employing the requisite short overhangs and generous departure angles will probably sit somewhere between the outgoing car and the previous generation Discovery in overall form. Which on balance is probably the pragmatic approach, but as with all such matters, the devil is expected to lie in the detail.

(c) Autocar

Naturally, a prime component of the Defender’s business case lies with the likely price it will command in the marketplace. With optimistic volumes said to be in the region of 50,000 per annum (this being the putative break-even point), it will by necessity no longer be the affordable workhorse beloved of marque loyalists. Autocar have suggested an entry level price in the region of £40k, rising to over £70k for the top of the range model. But despite howls from some quarters, bitterly proclaiming this wasn’t what they’d asked for, isn’t there a price to be paid for emotion?

But are there further prices to be exacted? For instance, what hasn’t been made clear is where the Defender is expected to exist within the Land Rover hierarchy? Is its purpose to sit above the Discovery or simply beyond? Because if a luxuriously appointed LWB Defender can offer most of the Discovery’s functionality and civility but with greater off-road capability, where does that leave the Disco? After all, matters of product overlap cannot be excluded from any dissection of the rather egregious financial situation JLR currently finds itself in.

Which brings us neatly to the subject of timing. The Landie is to be formally announced in the Autumn, towards the end of perhaps the most tumultuous year facing both the carmaker, to say nothing of its country of origin. So far the news emanating from Gaydon appears to be worsening by the week, with Automotive News recently reporting that the carmaker is facing a significant debt crisis.

To add insult to injury, the advent of the Defender, a matter which ought to be a matter of warm celebration has been tinged by the announcement that this much-loved and admired national symbol is to be built at JLR’s newly opened manufacturing plant in Slovakia. The reason? See under Business Case.

Since its inception as a simple all-terrain vehicle for landowners and farmers, the Land Rover has evolved into the potent symbol of British values a UK Secretary of Defence could post smugly about on social media. Cloaked in the Union flag, emblematic of all that is solid and true in the national character – a little rough around the edges, a tad unreliable perhaps, but basically a good egg.

(c) pinterest

But is it not also possible to read amid the Defender’s reforging a disturbing parallel to the kind of rhetoric one frequently hears from the free-market libertarian Whigs and disaster-capitalist-supporting politicians who fervently espouse a chaotic and damaging exit from the EU? Because alongside the Land Rover’s iconography also sits imagery of Britain’s past military glories; of Agincourt, Churchill and the Blitz – of a nation staunchly holding firm against foreign aggressors – the plucky underdog narrative the ‘one true Brexit’ supporters increasingly imbibe from.

The bitter irony is that like Britain’s bungled departure from the EU itself, the forthcoming Defender could arrive into a situation where the projected market appears to be at best, problematic, owing in part to Global geopolitics, but more to the point, the steadily worsening state of affairs at home, rocked by the culmination of a series of ill-considered product and business decisions and what one might have to simply call, events.

Because depressingly, the risk now is that the Defender could eventually emerge, blinking into a World for which it is no longer relevant and the reality of its existence, its appearance, to say nothing of its rationale will ultimately please no one, least of all the true believers.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “England Expects”

  1. The new Defender will fail. It has already been replaced by the Suzuki Jimmy and larger used off roaders from Japan. The market for rich Londoners who holiday in Cornwall and therefore need a Land Rover to traverse our famously unmettaled roads is somewhat restricted. I suppose they might be able to bribe people at the UK MoD and the Israeli Occupation Force to buy lots at inflated prices (I’m not saying government procurement is corrupt, OK, yes I am). In the growing markets of Russia and China, they seem to prefer flashy, luxury off roaders, not motorised hairshirts so another miss there.

  2. I admit, I am dreading this. It really could be a crass embarrassment. There is an image of the interior doing the rounds with ‘Stop’ and ‘Go’ labelled on the brake and throttle pedals. Hopefully it’s a Test Team joke, but I fear that it’s a mood board derived feature that is meant to add charm to the interior. Problem is that the new Jimny and G-Wagen have shown how it should be done, at different ends of the spectrum. They have the killer advantage of being continuity models and hence can evolve or stretch existing themes whereas the LR has the much tough task of ‘re-invention’. You can expect to find me hiding behind the sofa when the reveal finally takes place. I hope I am wrong!

    Good title, by the way, Nelson and Gavin Green have already made good use of the phrase/ paraphrase and it was never more true since then.

  3. My ideal for this car would be for it to be engineered and design around lowish cost, a long production run and utility. That way it would be a side line to LR´s more obviously luxurious vehicles. I fear this car may not live to see its eleventh year of production. Calculating on 20 years would have focused the programme on what mattered. As it is, I expect to see signs but not the substance of enduring utility.

  4. The market has moved on, but also expanded.

    On the one hand you have the Suzuki Jimny, Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes G Wagen – all comprehensively updated recently, but very much true to their original ethos. The transaction prices for all three are eye-opening: these are not priced at the cheap end of the market.

    On the other, you have the burgeoning utility market, epitomised by the VW Amarok: a working vehicle that can also serve the needs of an active family lifestyle. Again, the transaction prices are reaching ever higher.

    My own view is that the new Defender should have used the Amarok as a reference point, based on a sturdy and adaptable separate chassis that would share drivetrains and much else with the rest of the range. A bigger upfront investment, sure, but one that would have sired all the derivatives you could want and covered many bases in the market.

    JLR have decided to go in a different direction. It will be different, but surely there is a greater risk of cannibalising sales from the rest of the range? The latest Discovery in particular looks like a mis-step – presumably moved upmarket to make space for the Defender, but losing its core customers in the process.

  5. I think the best one can hope for is that the new Defender steps into the space previously occupied by the Discovery, the latest iteration of which is widely regarded as a mis-step; too similar to Range Rover models and too expensive. The boxy profile suggests this is a possibility. I think the Defender’s original market position (farmers, construction industry etc.) has long been ceded to pick-ups and the Land Cruiser.

    JLR really needs another big hit to shore up the (Jaguar side of the) business. The XE and XF are really struggling and the future market for a replacement (electric?) XJ is uncertain to say the least. The original XF sold because it coupé-esque style offered something different (like the CLS) to the traditional large saloon buyer. It’s successor is resolutely conventional, pitched directly against the 5-Series and E-class, and is losing that battle. Likewise, the XE against the 3-Series and C-Class.

  6. This vehicle is supposedly to be sold in North America. And it is “above” a Jeep Wrangler, since the Defender is a “premium” vehicle.

    Well, every Wrangler currently sold here has a 3.6 liter V6 engine, while the “premium” Defender will have some economy car turbo 4.

    (the Wrangler turbo 4 isn’t currently available here, and when it is it will carry a price premium of $1000, since it is paired with some nonsensical hybrid drive. i predict sales of this powertrain ~=0)

    This Defender is just a non starter.

    JLR is starting to give me a 1970’s BL vibe. They are stuck with a bunch of platforms that are not very competitive – but they can’t afford to update.

    They are stuck with a bunch of engines which are not very good, and certainly don’t fit the North American market.

    So now they are introducing “new” models which are little more than close panel restyles on existing platforms.

    This is only going to end one way….

    1. ” i predict sales of this powertrain ~=0″

      Even in California?

    2. ” i predict sales of this powertrain ~=0″

      “Even in California?”

      Yes. Total diesel sales in the USA are less than 500K, out of 16 million. Hybrid and EVs are even less than that.

      Despite the hype, California vehicle purchase patterns are not that different, and fuel prices are only slightly higher (50 pence per liter vs 40).

      Consumer claims about intended “environmental” purchases ought to be treated the same as statements by politicians: ignore what they say, and watch what they do.

  7. I feel like we’re in a world where everything is over-thought, and things that are functional and elegant at the same time cannot be made any more. At least I did till I saw the new Jimny and the Bollinger Electric Biscuit Tin 4×4, which have given me some faith. Land-Rover lost their original ethos around about the time they built those 101 Forward Control ‘Taxis’ for the Judge Dredd film and can never really come back from it without a radical return to their roots.

    It’s very hard to do Utility next to VIP Luxury – All those body-kitted, leather draped tuner defenders being testament to this. I think the Utility (as in cheap farm vehicle) direction is a hiding to nothing. This is their Halo Car and they should be protective of it and covet its charms.

    I feel like the way they could / should have gone if they had wanted to keep the original Land-Rover alive would be to have a sort of Skunkworks specialist factory at Gaydon,where they basically rebuilt the car from the ground up with the original hardpoints, but new pressings (that are symmetrical, don’t rattle, and fit), using modern thinking on everything underneath – chassis / suspension dynamics and the best modern drivetrains (torquey, V8, Electric) that fix the issues that got the Defender cancelled for its lack of safety and basically leave the exterior unchanged or even roll it back to pre-defender times – to me the Series III V8 with the flush grill but not the ugly wheel-arches and rounded single-screen windscreen is really the epitome of “Landyness”.

    That might sound like what’s been done with the Bellendwagen, but it isn’t quite it. It needs to be bespoke, but not lairy. Classy. And simple. No body kits, no chequer plate, no diamond stitching, no plastic even. Just raw, clean metal ruggedness as it should be. A sleeper, A RestoMod – call it what you will.

    Offer them with a pallet of available, compatible spare body elements so you can ‘lego’ your landie for summer / winter / camping – Want a rag-top tonneau with old style doors and removable windows? Check. Roof with built in pop-up tent? Check? Swap the rear tub from Passenger to Pickup? No problem. So many ways the 2 (3) sizes of chassis could be rationalised so cars could be offered in near infinite body styles – pickups, double-cabs, fast attack scout cars, overland campers, hi-performance forest mud-plugger etc etc etc. Imagine the online configurator!

    A flight of fancy maybe -but knowing you could basically do this with the old one it feels like they really didn’t know what they had – a simple platform that you could basically do anything with. Update the old dreck tech and it sells itself—maybe not for Travelling Doctors in central Africa, but they’ve have Toyota Pickups for that job for about 40 years anyway. No, this would be high-end, and not unlike the excellent examples of rugged and simple (with tasteful luxury) that Jonathan Ward at Icon is doing with their amazingly nice Land Cruiser and Bronco Resto Mods, or even the beautiful Landies that Cool&Vintage in Spain are making.

    Seems to me people that the people who want Landies, who have that nostalgia want modern reliability, strength, and ability but with authentic old-skool looks. Not overstyled focus-grouped tonka toys. Not ‘murdered out’ gangster limousines. Just solid, authentic cars that look like the matchbox one they had when they were kids.

    https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56a614a11115e033d3bebc0f/5c3c5c3eb8a04593c3fb8679/5c3c5c762b6a28e8adaad763/1547459716536/%40coolnvintage_art_d110-7.jpg?format=2500w
    Cool&Vintage Land Rover


    Icon FJ Landcruiser

    1. “I feel like we’re in a world where everything is over-thought, and things that are functional and elegant at the same time cannot be made any more.” I´d put it as the wrong thought. They are designing this around the 7 year model cycle appropriate for mainstream cars. This needed a Jimny approach.

    2. To be fair to JLR, they (unlike some) at least carried out some due diligence before embarking upon the new Defender programme. However, it does appear as though the sales/marketing/product strategy functions were accorded a little too much leeway in terms of its composition – the same people, one imagines who have been responsible for some of the more recent ill-thought product choices from Gaydon.

      The problem as I see it is that the Defender as constituted will not be the product JLR requires in 2020. In fact, as I see it, a low-volume (if potentially high-profit, if successful) model line is not going to keep the Slovakian plant utilised, especially as Discovery sales appear to have fallen significantly. I suspect that with the benefit of hindsight, JLR might not have gone down this route, but they are committed now and given that the Defender is to some extent the cornerstone of their brand, they could not do anything other than proceed, once greenlit.

      As regards the above suggestion (thanks for stopping by Huw), JLR Classic do offer something akin to this service both for Land Rovers and 1st generation Range Rovers. I imagine they will also build to the customer’s exact specification, if requested.

      Also, given Angel’s comment, I think we should bear in mind that JLR have just this month released the first of their in-line six cylinder engines, so far exclusively fitted to a hybrid version of the Range Sport model, but one imagines will be rolled out across the board over the course of the year as production ramps up. This unit is to replace the heavy and somewhat inefficient V6 unit which was derived from Jaguar’s venerable AJV8 unit. So the idea that the Defender will only be offered with small capacity ‘fours’ is unlikely to have basis in fact.

      One final point. I don’t think we should be holding Mercedes G-Klasse as being any kind of exemplar for the breed. That sordid confection is (to these eyes at least) represents an utter repudiation of any values the original vehicle possessed. In fact, the less said about it the better.

  8. The really scary thing is that almost $4 billion loss which JLR booked for the fourth quarter of 2019. It’s due in large part to the Chinese market and egregiously poor quality emanating from the local factory with upset owners banging on the HQ/factory/dealer doors with consequent sales collapse. No point sugarcoating it as “market conditions” or other nonsense as PR types are wont to do.

    https://www.carscoops.com/2019/02/jaguar-land-rovers-china-woes-caused-poor-quality-control/

    How do you get out of that situation? With extreme difficulty, I’d say. The company vision of itself doesn’t seem to square with reality. Their lack of grasp on electronics is the main problem these days, not physical build quality of the metal and oily bits, although I have no idea whether that also applies to Chinese production.

    As for the Defender, what starry-eyed people wanted was a mere slightly-modernized version of the old trundler, but today’s safety rules prohibit that.

    Until JLR achieves financial stability, all the speculation in the world about new products remains just that – speculation. They’re in pretty dire straits. And then there’s the Brexit imbroglio to really hammer home the problem.

    Cannot agree with Mr Angel Martin on the engine front. The only useless engine JLR had here recently was a rumbly 180 hp diesel Ingenium four, which for some reason they shovelled into almost everything, even the XF, but especially the first XEs and F-Paces with their low-rent interiors to further disappoint. Few people here wanted to spend $50, $60 grand or more for a supposedly upmarket car with some gravelly unrefined tiny diesel. You don’t go to a high end restaurant and expect salt condiments to be served in paper packets. Total misread of the market. The petrol 4, V6 and V8 engines seem fine, and none of them are breaking. It’s electrical and accessory issues that bedevil JLR. So one wonders at the new straight six with built-in mild hybrid assist and electric supercharger – eek. The mind boggles.

    The latest stone-age Jeep Wrangler JL with frame to suspension-point welding by apprentice blacksmiths, which sometimes breaks, oh yes indeed, is an anachronism from a bygone age.
    https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/jeep-wrangler-jl-recall-frame-weld-separations/

    The Alfa 2.0t engine with hybrid assist has indeed available in it since last summer (saw one at Halifax Chrysler Dodge where my best friend toils hard as warranty manager), and reviews prefer it to the Pentastar V6, itself hybridized for pickup truck duty. The vehicle itself is wildly overweight and has awful on-road handling/steering. Want a laugh? Read this:

    https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/a23746585/2018-jeep-wrangler-unlimited-suv-turbo-four-cylinder-hybrid/

    Of course, Wrangler fans will put up with anything, and sales are high. Even the steering issue is supposedly being addressed – wow, eh? Who would have expected that? Makes you wonder at the development team’s credentials. And the production people as well. Hyundai has had a supplier chassis factory literally built onto the side of the Jeep plant for a decade, but Chrysler had them continuing to make the previous JK chassis unit which was sold alongside the new JL. Hyundai said it would take 10 months to retool for the JL, so Jeep bought rubbish for the JL from small jobbers, hence the dreadful quality. Hyundai should be online by this Spring with the new design so maybe things will settle down.

    1. The quality issue in Chinese plants appears not to be wholly restricted to JLR. Autocar reported today on Honda suffering similarly, with the inevitable regressive knock-on effects upon its market share in the world’s largest car market.

      My understanding of the huge ‘one-off’ write down JLR have recently posted is that it refers to the value of investments in plant, machinery and (I believe) model lines which are now seen to be incapable of generating a return on investment. This would square with the colossal costs incurred with the X760 programme architecture, which underpins the failed XE/XF twins, F-Pace and Velar. With sales of the former massively below expectations, it appears they have elected to write off the costs and take the hit now. Similarly, the investment in Wolverhampton for the Ingenium engine plant was weighted towards diesel engine production – not now the case it would seem, so again, it’s money spent which won’t be recouped. I may be wrong about this, but that is my take on matters.

      While Honda’s recent announcement to pull car production out of Swindon in three years time may not have been directly associated with Britain’s exit from the EU (although it will have been a factor), and while other carmakers with assembly sites in the UK will be adversely affected by a chaotic departure without a deal or transition in place, it is JLR who is the most exposed and owing to the fact that the bulk of its production takes place in the UK, would, even under the best of circumstances, suffer a marked contraction in its fortunes.

      However, these are not the best of circumstances, and given the issues they currently face, it isn’t scaremongering to suggest that a crash out exit could be an existential threat.

    2. That scary and seemingly existential loss relates to the write off (or down) of plant and equipment and the thinking is that by taking the one off hit now the company will in the future be depreciating assets with a lower value and so the annual depreciation charge will be lower. A case of pain today and gain tomorrow as it were.

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