Who Really Killed the Land Rover Defender (and what can we learn from this tragedy)?
The most iconic 4x4 in history is no longer manufactured and the replacement is looking to be a Tupperware T-Rex (please Jaguar Land Rover/Tata, prove me wrong). It has been three years since the Defender was executed amidst claims from Jaguar Land Rover that sales were too low and production costs too high for production to continue. But, the story is not that simple - I have a few chief suspects who I believe should be held accountable. Please note - this an opinion piece.
1) Al Qaeda, ISIS and The Improvised Explosive Device - IED
Defenders (and countless Series Land Rovers) have paid the ultimate price in theatres of conflict from Belfast to Baghdad. They have been dropped from aeroplanes, transported special forces through deserts and jungles around the world. As an Armoured Personnel Carrier/ Protected Patrol Vehicle the beast of burden did what they could to mobilize the armed forces of many countries. But the mighty Defender was no match for the IED and the British military had to come up with new APC’s which could survive road side blasts and protect their valuable cargo. The Defender was relegated to utility duties but Jaguar/Land Rover lost a vital contract.
2) The United Nations, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, etc.
There is a saying - Land Rover discovered Africa and Toyota keeps her running. We have seen this first hand as we drove around Southern and East Africa. The white Toyota Land Cruiser is the UN/NGO vehicle of choice and you will see them everywhere transporting over paid mid-level bureaucrats from conference hall to hotel and back to the conference hall while peace keepers with empty guns patrol hostile regions. The United Nations has over the last few decades bought tens of thousands of these white Land Cruisers and while Toyota is cashing in Jaguar/Land Rover lost a vital contract. The UN and other aid agencies tend to sell older vehicles to the local populace who then repurpose the vehicles for labour or other transport duties, a conversion which guarantees a market for the sale of spare parts and other Toyota vehicles as the brand solidifies market share and brand loyalty. Regrettably, Toyota has also become part of the ISIS brand.
The Toyota Land Cruiser squeezed the Defender out with legendary (legends are hardly ever accurate) reliability and a parent company committed to market domination. Lucas, the Prince of Darkness, certainly did not help the Defenders cause.
3) The Defender
Land Rover once claimed that 70% of all Land Rovers ever made are still on the road. We have travelled with our Defender 130 through 50 plus countries on four continents and we believe this slightly inflated statistic to be almost accurate. The Series vehicles and Defender are hardly ever completely abandoned as “new” engines and gearboxes are shoe horned into sturdy frames. An aluminium body will last forever and a ladder chassis can take forever to corrode in some climates. So we keep them going. And going and going. A new 2015 Defender (when available) offered nothing substantially superior than what an older vehicle could provide, in fact many enthusiasts prefer the bullet proof Tdi to the Td5 or Tdci engines. For good reason (though we have found the Td5 to be an excellent engine). So why buy a new vehicle when a well maintained older vehicle is half the price or less and superior depending on your preference? I would rather have two firewall mounted vents than a Puma dashboard which my long legs cannot cram beneath and the Tdci needs clean, European diesel while the Tdi and Td5 can run on cooking oil. Land Rover built a vehicle to last and last it did, it outlasted itself.
4) Ford and BMW. And Tata
It was Tata (the manufacturer of the worlds cheapest car) who pulled the trigger on the Defender but it was Ford and BMW who signed the death warrant and who have to take the blame for losing the market share to Toyota, particularly in terms of the brands agricultural, construction and military markets. Yes, had these corporations nurtured the Defender and ensured that the UN and the worlds military buyers had contracted thousands of vehicles they may have expanded manufacture and adapted the vehicle to be bulletproof (in more ways than one). They bought a brand which revolutionised the automotive market with the Series, Range Rover, Discovery and Defender but were unable to capitalise on a market which those marques already dominated. And they were unable to open the US market to the Defender other than a few thousand V8’s, mostly 90’s and a handful of 110’s. We do not always love the step child.
5) The March of Time
The Defender is a hand built legend but hand built is not the way of the future. Robotics and self-drive cars and automation are the future. The Defender can be repaired in a campsite, compound or in the field but repair itself is a thing of the past - modern dealer mechanics do not repair, they replace. As technology progresses ever forward, vehicle manufacturers create vehicles which sell and, more importantly, are profitable. Oil burners are replaced with electric engines, ladder chassis’ replaced by monocoque, coil springs with intelligent suspension, driver skill with driver aids. DIY repair is not profitable. The Defender is a dinosaur and the fact that JLR continued to manufacture the vehicle until 2015 is an astonishing testament to the vehicles popularity.
The new Defender does not only have to please the puritans, it has to be an utilitarian vehicle, built for use in industry and theaters of conflict, the new Defender has to wrestle back the crown from the Toyota Land Cruiser. Or it will simply be a beefy Discovery.
The King is dead. Long live the king!
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