A while ago I got drawn into writing some comments on an online forum relating to the new Land Rover Defender replacement, the DC100 Concept. What an interesting exercise this was as LR aficionados commented passionately about what the new model should look like or even if there should be a new model at all, seeing as so many customers were entirely happy with the old Defender, which is almost a household favourite.
The images released to the press of the new Defender concept descending down through some rough terrain in what looked like a rocky river bed, and one respondent on this forum thought that the vehicle looked rather like ‘a squashed Mini, if you squinted your eyes sufficiently’. Others said they would be holding onto their older models and even going out to buy another before they disappeared from the market, and thereafter they might be persuaded to switch brands away from Land Rover. One farmer friend of mine told me that he had sold his 2003 Land Rover to buy an older model from the era ‘before they had brains’, or an electronic engine management system. Still others thought that the Defender-replacement offered a new look and that it was about time that the company moved on.
Whichever way you want to look at it, all manufacturers need to move with the times as new technology dictates that improved or more advanced features must be incorporated into new models. The story behind this new Defender concept is that Land Rover has allegedly lost some large defence contracts in India, and as the brand’s new owners now have their home on the Indian sub-continent, this is a bitter blow to the manufacturer. Also of significance is the fact that it is the local, cheaper and more competitive models in the Asia region that have stolen Land Rover’s march, a particularly difficult pill to swallow.
What I can say is that living in the hills of west Wales, many of our farming friends use Land Rover Defenders in everyday practical applications on their farms, and the feeling is that the older Defender models are more reliable in a working farm environment than the newer models with the electronic wizardry and fancy features. The call there is for a robust workhorse, which is what the Defender has been to so many people for so many years, and Defender owners have been able to depend on its simplicity and reliable performance for many years.
In recent decades we have seen how the Toyota has decimated the Land Rover market in Australia where the robust, go-anywhere Landcruiser has taken this market. It is the actual physical strength of the vehicle, its ability to do what the Land Rover used to do and its unsophisticated character that has won so many sales in that market. Land Rover see this happening in so many of their markets around the world, that a new image has now been sought with this new Defender concept.
But in trying to analyse why there has been a migration away from the Landie by its traditional rural customers, the farmers and general bushwhackers, one just has to look at the markets that LR now aspire to. Perhaps LR have become the victims of their own success as the Defender now appeals more to the mink and manure brigade, providing a ‘rugged’ urban image for those who pursue leisure activities such as horse sports and ‘rough’ picnicking. The Range Rover for instance has become the vehicle of choice for footballers and wannabe celebs, but it wasn’t that long ago that the Range Rover did what the Defender and Discovery do now, that is, to provide transport to the local stables or polo game. Today though, the Range Rover has moved upmarket and is now the essential transport on the school run, and has now taken on the street name of the ‘Chelsea Tractor’.
All of this means that the other models in the Land Rover family have moved up a notch in the market where the Freelander has grown (in size) to take on the role of the Discovery, and the Disco has become quite luxurious, which is where the Range Rover used to be a few years back. The Range Rover has also been repositioned and is now more closely related to the Queen Mary than anything else on the road. So if LR have moved all of their models along a notch, that leaves a hole in the model range where the workhorse Defender used to be, and it leaves the brand without a basic vehicle for the hard work.
So perhaps it is little wonder that LR are struggling to fill a gap that they have created themselves by moving all of their models upmarket, and the resultant loss of sales in the utilitarian sector, which is where the brand originated from. In developing a Defender replacement, LR will have to tread very carefully if it does not wish to lose still more loyal customers. It might be that LR have taken a conscious decision to abandon the utilitarian sector of the market, in which case their target market will dictate that style and fashion will determine any future model developments. This new Defender concept model will then make sense, as it is clearly a style-driven vehicle.
One journalist friend commented, “They [LR] sell almost all their product to people who have no use for the vehicle’s design and capability, yet they put up with the high running costs dictated by the 4WD engineering, despite never needing to call on the capability of the car. What a marketing triumph. The Defender is such a tough thing to redesign. Crash test/pedestrian safety regs surely mean the original boxy shape design has it’s days numbered. But how do you redesign an icon?”
There can be no denying that the recent launch of the Evoque is aimed fairly and squarely at the aspiring mink and manure brigade as one LR official told me at a recent motor show. His comment was that the Evoque would offer a luxury alternative to the BMW X3 and the Audi Q3, while taking sales from the BMW Z4, Audi A4, and Mazda RX8 – a rather eclectic mix of models if ever there was one. That may be the case, but it just reinforces my point that the target market is now all luxury driven which is further evidenced by the fact that Zara Phillips, only daughter of Princess Anne, is the first person to take delivery of a new Range Rover Evoque.
So don’t be surprised when the defence departments around the world don’t form an orderly queue to buy the Evoque, Discovery and Freelanders for work in the field. And don’t expect farmers to hitch up their stock trailers to the back of a £50,000 Discovery, and so the trend towards Nissan, Toyota, Isuzu and Mitsubishi brands in the farming community will no doubt continue for some time to come – or until there is once again a new reasonably priced Land Rover workhorse offered.
Anyone seen my keys to the Series III?