News : A stay of execution for the Land Rover Defender?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

To quote Monty Python's Spamalot, 'I'm not dead yet!'
To quote Monty Python’s Spamalot, ‘I’m not dead yet!’

The iconic Land Rover Defender may not go out of production in 2015 after all, following a huge upsurge in demand from customers wanting to own one of the very last examples.

According to a report in the Birmingham Post, production of the iconic 4×4, which was originally scheduled to cease at the end of this year, will continue into 2016. Business Reporter Enda Mullen cites a Land Rover insider as revealing that the Defender would stay in production until all orders were fulfilled.

“It is going to be extended until at least the end of February,” said the Land Rover employee, who works at the Lode Lane factory. “We have had a glut of orders and are going on until then.

“Although I’ve been told that February is the definite cut-off date, someone else has said it could possibly go on until April.”

A workforce of around 450 still assembles Defenders by hand on the Lode Lane production line
A workforce of around 450 still assembles Defenders by hand on the Lode Lane production line

The worker added that, although there was increased demand the car-maker, had not added an additional Defender shift.

While other areas of the Solihull factory have 24-hour manufacturing to cope with demand for Land Rover, and now Jaguar, vehicles built there, Defender production is still carried out by around 450 workers on a single day shift.

“The shift is still running normally and as always it is only days as well,” they said

In March, the Birmingham Post also revealed that Defender production was being ramped up by almost 50 per cent to cope with increased demand during the model’s farewell year.

The two-millionth utility Land Rover, completed in May 2015
The two-millionth utility Land Rover, completed in May 2015

Ordinarily, each shift might produce 84 Defenders but output had been increased to 125 to cope with a spike in demand as people avail of the last chance to own the latest version of the vehicle which first set the Land Rover ball rolling.

Last year 17,781 Defenders were produced at the car-maker’s Solihull plant but that figure is likely to be dwarfed by this year’s output.

[Editor’s Note: Our thanks to Enda Mullen and the Birmingham Post for giving AROnline permission to use this edited version of the original article.]

 

Craig Cheetham

A serial impulsive car purchaser, Craig has had his name on over 200 V5s over the past 20 years. 10 per cent of those have been either 800s or Austin Allegros, with between 10 and 20 cars usually owned at any one time. Started out as a local newspaper journalist then worked for car mags including Auto Express, Classic Car Weekly and Land Rover Owner. Worked inside the car industry for a decade as an employee of General Motors, now works for a news distribution agency. Home based, which is dangerously convenient for further irrational heap purchases. Lover of all makes of car since childhood, with a particular leaning towards Austin-Rover... Father of three boys, so hoping to spread the car love. Other passions include rugby union, travelling and eating out.

45 Comments

  1. What is the issue with regards the Defender and legislation? If its just down to emissions, surely an appropriately tuned version of the new Ingenium could be the answer? – Or surely Ford must doing something with the Transit power train to make it compliant for themselves?

  2. Time to replace this fabulous vehicle – alas it’s time has come. The upsurge on demand is because it is being discontinued, not because it is suddenly more fit for purpose. Much as we all love it, time to turn the page to a new chapter.

  3. With the booming sales of their other LR/RR products, and the Jaguar XE plus the new F-Pace also being produced in Solihull, I imagine JLR are desperate for the space that the Defender line takes up as well!

    • The all-new replacement for the Defender is likely to be built at Solihull, so the current assembly track will likely need to make way for that for the replacement model (whenever it is due to be formally announced).

      • There will be a gap before production of the replacement starts, and rumours that it will be built abroad as the UK plants are reaching full capacity

        • Sounds as if Jaguar Land Rover needs another assembly plant not too far away from their existing plants, possibly somewhere near or in the Midlands. I wonder whether there is such a factory not too far away that might be able to accommodate additional capacity…

          • Not near the Midlands, but there is an Old Ford Transit Factory in Southampton doing nothing at the moment

          • funny how, not that long ago they were talking rationalising the plants they have, and then went and built an engine factory. alex

    • They’ve done a deal with Magna Steyr so it could go there – although it could be a Jaguar model of course!!

  4. I believe it is down to pedestrian safety legislation, details of the actual regulation were mentioned in the Sunday Times Driving supplement earlier this year.

    I wish I could afford to buy one of the last ones and remember this wonderful chapter. Hopefully the replacement model will not be a designer’s frivolous fancy that moves away from the core market sectors the Defender occupies and bears little reference to its predecessor. Instead I hope it maintains the functional versatility and distinctive design silhouette of the outgoing model while utilising a more productive production assembly process.

  5. It’s occupant crash protection – the dash/front seat area is the problem. Pedestrian safety, if an issue, would be a relatively easy fix although it might not look pretty. Mind you, Defender has been on its way out since 1999, if not even earlier. I wish people at JLR were more focussed on proper functional offroad vehicles, although given the profit margins on Range Rover it’s understandable….

    • No money to be made in functional Defenders though, the upturn in sales is for pimped up versions, not the bog standard version used by farmers!

      If I needed a workaday vehicle, why would I buy a new Defender, when I would buy something far more comfortable for my everyday transport and a secondhand Defender for all the dirty work?

      • The bottom line with the (overdue) death of the Defender is ‘the bottom line’. It is simply far to expensive to make, versus what can be charged for the product. The product relies on the ‘pimped up’ editions to maintain any kind of volume – it doesn’t sell to anybody else in any real numbers.

    • Please, if you know “a relatively easy fix” in the issue of pedestrian safety, hurry along to your nearest motor manufacturer. They will offer you any price you ask in exchange for your insight.

      Pedestrian safety is a multimillion pound issue for the industry.

  6. It does seem odd that JLR went to great lengths to make sure its new from the ground up XE looked exactly the same as the 8 year old, cobbled together from old S Type and Ford parts XF, and yet – if design studies to date are anything to go by – are determined that the Defender replacement looks nothing like this car. One of the most, if not the most iconic car designs of all time.

    • I feel like JLR is poised to make a huge misstep with the Defender replacement. The Defender is the product of an evolution that started with first Series in 1948.There is a lot of love for the Defender because it’s a legend, because of that design heritage, and because there’s nothing else on the road quite like it. JLR should refer to the playbook for the Mercedes G-Class. THAT is an example of how to update an iconic design (I realise that’s not an absolute like-for-like comparison, but you catch my drift). It’s just incredibly disappointing – for God’s sake, at least make a Defender that LOOKS LIKE A DEFENDER. I just can’t even imagine their rationale for the direction they’re going. **Imagined inner monologue of JLR design team: “Well, you see, what we need to do is ignore everyone who thinks that the Defender isn’t a vehicle that really needs replacing, and instead, just totally go off the deep end here. We need to design something that is absolutely nothing at all like what anyone perceives as a Defender. Especially visually. This will surely win over everyone.”

      • Exactly my thoughts.
        When i visited Solihull back in January, and was invited with the other visitors to write in a postcard our thoughts on what the new Defender should be like, i wrote: “Keep the looks, but modernise everything underneath”.
        Who wouldn’t like a Defender that looks like a proper Defender but is as refined and capable as a Discovery 4?

  7. This last minute upsurge in demand does not surprise me.
    I doubt your average farmer with a 3 year old model will be going “I must get a new model whilst I still can” – They will be happy running their current vehicle for another ten years at least. However, the more enthusiastic type will be keen to have one of the last examples of an extremely iconic vehicle – the more “pimped up” versions will appeal to them.

  8. To me the solution seems to be to make a low cost practical vehicle in India and a trendy off-roader in the UK. I know everyone will shout “thin end of the wedge”, but the alternative is giving away what’s left of the utility market. Watch all those old films from Africa and see the Land Rovers. Watch newer ones and see all the Toyotas. Not really following this too closely, but I imagine Toyota are having a harder time of it these days too.

  9. It’s an old design and while capable and well liked, TATA must have the same feelings for it that British Leyland had for the Morris Minor( another 1948 vehicle) when they were formed in 1968, an elderly model with a cult following, but not really something that they wanted to market after 1971 as the design was so old and sales weren’t generating profits.
    However, both the Morris Minor and Land Rover Defender, possibly even more so, prove one thing, a simple, unpretentious vehicle with bombproof mechanicals will always have a large market.

    • Except it doesn’t have a large market.

      Until this recent surge in demand as production is ending, it represented around 2% of Land Rover’s annual production. And I say this as a Land Rover enthusiast!

      Of the many, many enthusiasts that there are for this car, hardly any of them bought them new and are pretty disparaging of the newer cars (with Transit engines) for being too electronics heavy anyway!

  10. As an American, the previously announced termination of DEFENDER production was no surprise to me. The small numbers produced, some two million vehicles over a period of sixty-seven years, cannot possibly justify the cost of further research and development of any such vehicle.

    On the other hand, I got my first car on 16 April 1964. This was less than one month after my sixteenth birthday. (I was born 26 March 1948, so what I still regard as “the real Land-Rover” and I are the very same age.) My first car, which my father had purchased used, was a 1962 88″ 2.25 liter petrol station wagon, s/n 24402456a. Over the next two years the Land Rover bug hit hard. God, to this day I dearly love these vehicles!

    I still had my first Land Rover in January 1972 when I ordered a new 88″ 2.25 liter 2.25 liter NADA deluxe hardtop. That vehicle, s/n 25900379a, was built in March 1972 and delivered to me in Missoula, Montana on 25 August 1972. It had long been my wish “to some day be buried in my Land-Rover.” Knowing myself and my love for this wonderful product—and what a vehicle my 1972 Land Rover had been—I’d still have the car (and, more importantly, still be driving it) upon reaching the age of 100 had it not been stolen from me in the early 1990s.

    I’ve own a number of Land Rovers (the product now called Defender) in the years since 1964. I have not had a Land Rover since 1994. It has long been my wish to eventually purchase another Land Rover. But I long ago warned my (second) wife: “Don’t ever let me buy another Land Rover, or it will cost us our marriage just as Land Rover cost Ginny and me my first marriage.” My dear Leah passed away after a long illness in October 2010. A little over a year after that I married my third wife. In February 2012 and after warning Debbie about my “love for all things Land Rover,” I ordered a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Rather than fight over “who gets to drive the Jeep,” I purchased Deb a Grand Cherokee Overland diesel in March 2014.

    Here is the bottom line to the dear folks in Solihull (and their bosses at Tata): Having learned how to be a little more understanding and a lot more diplomatic with women since my first marriage, make today’s—that’s to say the present generation Defender—U.S. legal, and sell me the right to be the first in line in the United States to buy one. I would place the order for that DEFENDER today.

    I’ve never known any motor vehicle—or anything else, for that matter—that I have and will always have the same love for as I do the Series Land Rovers and their logical replacement, today’s Defender.

    While still in high school friends gave me the nickname of “LR Andy.” To this day some of my dearest friends still call me, “Land Rover Andy.” These vehicles are in my blood. They are my heart and soul. Long live Land Rover. Long live Defender!

    Andrew “Andy” McKane IV
    Springville, Utah, USA

  11. As an American the previously announced termination of DEFENDER production came as no surprise to me. The small numbers produced, 2,000,000 in 67 years, cannot possibly justify the cost of continued research and development in the modern world.

    In March 1964, my sixteenth birthday present was a two-year old 1962 88″ 2.25 liter LHD petrol station wagon (24402456a). I’ve owned a number of other Land Rovers, Rover cars and even a grey market Range Rover since then. These days I drive a 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Just to keep my wife happy we got her a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland diesel.

    Nothing, absolutely nothing known to me has ever made me as happy as owning and driving Land Rovers. If the next generation Defender (by whatever name it will be called—and, may I suggest it’s simply called LAND ROVER!) should be imported into the United States, I’d love to have the honor of placing the first order for one.

    No product of any kind has earned my trust, loyalty and devotion the way Land Rover has. Don’t ruin the next generation “Defender.” I’ll place an order for a brand new present generation DEFENDER today if Solihull will produce it so it complies with U.S. safety and emission control standards.

    “There is no substitute for Land Rover, the world’s most versatile vehicle.”

    Oh, God, I dearly love these vehicles!

    Andrew “Andy” McKane IV
    Springville, Utah USA

  12. I visited Solihull recently, and was told by the tour guide that the ‘Shadow factory’ buildings housing the Defender line need to be replaced before the assembly line for the new vehicle can be built.

    Certainly seemed plausible on the ground.

  13. @ Tigger, the Defender is in the same position to the Morris Minor in 1970. Although the used market was still healthy and the car was a common sight, new ones were selling in penny numbers as the design was old fashioned and the car wasn’t what people wanted by 1970. Similarly the Defender, while still an excellent off roader, is only selling with special editions as most buyers would sooner have a more modern and car like Land Rover.

  14. I was brand manager for the Defender back in the 1990s and it was frankly past its sell-by date then. The plan was to create a utility vehicle based on the Discovery (effectively making Land Rover a one platform company!) and keep the old model going in a low volume facility for military/utility users. This plan failed thanks to BAe’s funding policy (i.e. there were no funds) and some muddle headed thinking by the military team who turned the strategy on its head by offering the MoD the new vehicle! This was a role it was never intended for and could never meet so it ended up as a pig’s ear although the military version is the only survivor of the Challenger project at the Dunsfold Collection (although rumours continue that another is still at Gaydon for designer stimulus on the new model whenever and whatever it might be.

    Once Challenger bit the dust, we had a ‘road map’ to guide Defender through the forest of legislation by changing engines and we even looked at the feasibility of fitting airbags for the US market (too expensive to be worth it). The mass of detail changes done for the 2012 model year turned it into a respectable vehicle although the cramped interior was always a problem (an issue ducked when ‘Stage 2’ was being designed – with wider track axles the body could have been improved but the engineers wanted to keep as many panels common. Naturally they all ended up being different and the opportunity was lost).

    It’s easy to be sentimental about the old girl (in fact I’ve just acquired an ex-Australian Army 110 – surely the best of the breed) but sadly it’s time has come. But, as ever, JLR seems to be struggling with a replacement!!

  15. I suppose the question is, do they really need to replace it ? If it only accounts for 2% of production and doesn’t make any money the logical answer would be ‘No’.

    • Your logic would be sound but, in a world where Land Rover are more and more moving into the realm of (for the want of a better description) “hairdresser’s cars”, the Defender lent the brand an air of credibility that’s not easy, or cheap, to achieve in any other way. Until very recently, it was great to walk into a LR showroom and see a new Defender parked there amongst all of the modern stuff.

      I remember hearing a LR suit saying “it doesn’t matter what we do, if we never mention off roading again, it will always remain what we are known for”. Surprisingly arrogant really.

      I say this as someone who’s never owned a Defender, but have bought two new and three nearly new Land Rovers since 2011

  16. The extra production run will be to supply replacements for the “Friday afternoon shift” vehicles rejected by the customers post-delivery

  17. @ mm, I don’t think the Defender has suffered from some of the reliability issues of other Land Rovers. I know the electricals can be a bit wayward, but as the Defender doesn’t have that much in the way of equipment( unless you buy one of the special editions), there’s less to go wrong. Bear Grylls swears by Defenders and the fact ones from the seventies are still in use says something.

    • In your favour you acknowledge the shortfalls of the products of LR, in contrast to the blindfolded jingoists who cannot bear any criticism of anything with the LR badge on the bonnet or tailgate.

      The sales brochure for the dreams, the service booklet for the nightmares

      • To be fair to LR, I own one of the apparently most unreliable models, a Mk1 (facelift) Freelander.

        It’s now 10 years old and I’ve owned it for 8 of those years. In my ownership I’ve had to replace the wiper blades, a couple of bulbs, the brake pads and clutch master cylinder.

        Should I complain that I’ve not had the full Land Rover experience ?

  18. What makes the Defender “Cool” is the same reason that the original Mini became cool – A 100% functional vehicle.

    The brands of Jaguar and Range Rover have been damaged I think. If someone said to me in the 90s “I’ve just got a new Ranger Rover/Jaguar” I’d have been excited, impressed, and asked to see it. Now if they say that, I assume they’ve got a rep-mobile or a salesman’s Evoque.

    Land Rover needs to be careful to not go to the same way. The Defender is their only cool British model, the new one needs to be the best 4×4 available, and have various commercial versions, even if that means some limitations in other areas.

  19. I think they are mad to discontinue the Defender. Demand is increasing year on year! People still want a reliable 4×4 that has a strong separate chassis,an aluminum body and is easy to fix. The Defender is exactly that. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t very fast or very comfortable, the machine is TOUGH! It is “The best four by four by far”…

  20. What i don’t really understand is why they didn’t follow the route that Mercedes followed over the years with the G-wagen. Keep the shape/looks that is adored and admired by everyone, and reengineer everything necessary to bring it up to date with modern requirements.

    • But that’s exactly what they did until it was simply no longer possible without starting with a clean sheet design. These vehicles even had to all be registered as light commercial vehicles in the end to get around the fact that it was not possible to fit a driver’s airbag; an option, as laws were changing, that was no longer open to them.

      The G Wagon may look vaguely similar, but it’s much more modern – dating from 1979, rather than 1948 and the problems in keeping it legal are not as insurmountable.

      • Well, i don’t see it exactly this way.
        For example, a bought in drivetrain from Ford, and some added electronics for ABS and traction control, doesn’t really count as an investment or update. The last real update was the introduction of the 90/110 models in early 1980’s.
        Correct me if i am wrong, but the G-wagen has the same basic recipe despite starting his career much later. It is a square body mounted on a ladder frame chassis, with solid axles on coil springs front and rear. The most significant different as i understand is the body, which in the case of G-wagen is much more easier and cheaper to build in comparison with the Defender’s meccano kit.
        So yes, Land Rover have to start from a clean sheet, but the boxy style is not a problem.

        • I knew the development engineer that worked on adapting the Disco 2 to fit an airbag and that was extremely difficult as the entire steering column and the way it was mounted to the chassis was never intended to suit an airbag installation and was completely inappropriate for one.

          If you’ve ever driven a Defender, you’ll appreciate the complete lack of space for the driver and even if there were enough space for one, I can’t imagine how they would reengineer the bulkhead and steering column to get one to fit.

          When LR adapted the Disco 2, they had the lucrative American market to break into with it to justify the major development work. With the Defender, they would had to have done all of that ANS get it through Euro 6, with only another couple of years before the next major emissions hurdle and only penny production numbers to spread the costs between.

          PS: I’m a big LR fan, this is not a knocking exercise and I run a Disco 4, so I like Land Rover’s traditional boxy shape much more than the worn tablet of soap look!

          • Thanks for the insight John. Of course i agree with you. I have driven the latest Defenders and it is obvious that they could do nothing with the existing bulkhead and cabin. I don’t deny that a serious investment was required to start all over again. What i am wondering is why they didn’t do it. Yes, the market share has shrinked, but this happened just because the Defender started to be significantly less practical to live with in comparison with the competition. My feeling is that with an updated product the customers would return back.

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