It’s sometimes difficult to understand how a manufacturer’s marketing guru’s brain works. Maybe I’m just confused, but if somebody can explain why Land Rover is keeping the Defender name and fighting so hard to stop other people copying its old “shape” I would like to know.
The original Defender that I still see on and off our roads is at best a clunky, box-shaped 4×4 with a wheel on each corner and wind-cheating aerodynamics that leave you feeling as if you are always driving headlong into a force-10 gale.
The defenders of the Defender
It was (and still is) a great off-roader, but comfortable it certainly has never been. To me, drivers of the original Defender always look as if they are sitting stiffly at attention and staring into rearview mirrors the size of soup plates. They all also wear determined looks on their faces — something that is probably necessary given the lumbering progress of their chosen transport.
The habit of then adding all types of gadgets from gas bottles, to huge roof racks, off-road jacks, rooftop tents, winches and snorkels certainly gives the Defender that “Out of Africa” look. Very impressive — especially in Sandton rush-hour traffic. It’s a pity that safari suits for office wear are no longer in style.
So, why after announcing with blowing bugles in 2016 that the Defender was no more, not give the old legend a decent funeral and move on?
There are plenty of names that go with the rugged call of Land Rover and Range Rover. Why stick with the Defender name and attach it to a new vehicle that has nothing in common with the box that dragged the company across the years, and through various corporate owners, into the 21st century?
How about naming the new vehicle the “Grenadier”? Oops, sorry, that name is already taken by the Canadians and their look-alike (but different, they say), off-roader.
Even more confusion
Then to add to the confusion and add unnecessary controversy to the new vehicle, Jaguar Land Rover (now owned by Tata of India, if you can’t recall), went to the UK’s High Court. There, they tried to legally defend their right to a shape that over the years probably hasn’t got any pulses racing.
It must have been tough for a British judge, who probably has an old, bottle-green Defender dropping off straw bales for the polo ponies, to throw the company out of court.
Imagine hardening a British, tradition-obeying juristic heart against a corporate plea which said:
“The Land Rover Defender is an iconic vehicle which is part of Land Rover’s past, present and future. Its unique shape is instantly recognisable and signifies the Land Rover brand around the world.”
The poor judge’s curly white wig must have turned grey and moulted onto his red gown.
Ineos Automotive, the Canadian outfit who will be launching the new Def.., er, sorry Grenadier in 2021, have openly admitted that their inspiration was the original Land Rover Defender.
True to tradition, they will reportedly be using live axles and coil springs mounted on a ladder chassis as the basis for their new offering. It is reported that BMW could supply the engine for the new vehicle. (That rings a bell, doesn’t it?)
Land Rover’s new line of defence…
The new Defender being publicised around the globe has two things in common with the old model: The Land Rover badge and the Defender name. Otherwise, it’s an entirely different modern offering that will enable the company to meet the emission standards that the original could not.
The last Defender rolled off the production line at Solihull in January 2016, after a production run that began in 1948. Landie fans claim that about two million were made and that about 70% are still on the road.
The challenge for Jaguar Landrover now is to build a place in the market for the new Defender, without having people always refer to the old model and question owners about whether they are driving an old one or a new one.
Wouldn’t it also be embarrassing if the Grenadier became a best seller?