48OE Blog  
Oct 28

Written by: 48OE Admin
28/10/2013 17:59  RssIcon

With the end of the current Land Rover Defender production looming ever closer, 2015 will be a considerable milestone.

I am not sure if Land Rover will have a seamless replacement ready in time. Replacing an iconic symbol of a company’s history is a task few would relish.  As much as the passing of time may alter perception, especially with the expansion of the Range Rover name plate, it is the Defender that is synonymous with the Land Rover Brand. Even today’s small Defender production has not dimmed this perception and it still defines part of the brand DNA.

It is the replacement in whatever guise, be it SUV or Utility, that will decide how good the Land Rover design team under Gerry McGovern turn out to be. Getting a vehicle to sell better and be profitable is the easy part. Creating something that is worthy of the name in the eyes of Enthusiasts, Fleet Users, Fashionistas and Design Intellectuals is another matter. 

The Defender for all its faults was beyond Fashion. The Tradesman, Farmer, Estate Owner, Pop Icon, Media Star and The Royal Family were all comfortable being seen in one. Top Gear voted it the Coolest Car Ever” in one of its polls and it is adored across age groups by both men and women. For all the money invested in the global automotive industry very few vehicles, if any, have achieved this universal appeal - the Land Rover Defender has ruled supreme.

Any other car manufacturer would die for this heritage and fame. It is probably a great marketing paper waiting to be written how this low volume quirky vehicle, that was uncomfortable to drive, noisy and slow, became and maintained global iconic status for the last 65 years. If anything this probably illustrates the unfathomable state of man’s freewill. The "Land Rover" as the Defender started out proves the rule that Icons cannot be designed, they evolve by default regardless of our input. Very few things reach this status and when they do they generally defy logic or the actions of their custodians. Land Rover has been through a plethora of owners and has risen above them all.

Any list of iconic consumer products that have mass appeal and spring to mind instantly is small. Those that can be recognised and named by my 95 year old mother and a 4 year old child of a friend are exceptionally rare.

Harley Davidson, regardless of Japanese technology, is iconic as is Louis Vuitton luggage (who have also failed to find anything to match the status of their gold and brown signature print on plastic to capture a consumer’s imagination). The Mini is a good example of success where BMW took an icon and made a business out of it when successive UK owners failed.

It will be easy to produce a SUV that creates the required sales volumes around the world but can it live up to all that is implied by the Defender name plate?. To do this I think Land Rover will have to decide that they want to be the number one player in the utility market.  Toughness, capability and simplicity do not sit easily with premium technology, but they are necessary for the utility market. If Land Rover is to embrace this market it is a fantastic challenge for the designers as they have to step outside their comfort zone of luxury and understand a whole new market place.

I for one hope they take up this challenge and succeed because the brand history demands it. There will always be critics for whom change is a problem but we should not just surrender to Japanese trucks.