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Land Rover will modernize its rugged Defender - but when?

2013 Defender 90 Hard Top LXV Special Edition

Land Rover

Take this bit of speculation to the bank: before the end of the decade, Tata's Land Rover will sell an all-new Defender here in Canada and also in the United States.

Murray Dietsch, who heads product development at Land Rover, says a replacement for the iconic SUV is in the early planning stages "and maybe it will be one vehicle or a portfolio of vehicles," he has told, adding that "rest assured that we're absolutely sure we want to replace it."

The question is, when?

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We know that the Defender hasn't been sold in North America for many years because it is not equipped with air bags. We also know that "The Defender will go out of production by the middle of the decade due to legislative reasons," a Land Rover spokesman recently confirmed to Automotive News Europe. Land Rover simply cannot make the business case for updating the current and ancient Defender.

So, Dietsch told, Land Rover's oldest vehicle will go out of production at the end of 2015. The current truck will not comply with European emissions regulations set for 2016, so that's that. For now.

However, Land Rover is in the early stages of a massive remake; long-range thinking about the Defender is in the mix. Indeed, what's already new at Land Rover is pretty impressive for a brand on death's door not so very long ago.

For instance, after a decade on BMW-era underpinnings, the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport have been completely re-engineered and re-styled. Meantime, the Evoque small SUV launched just a couple of years ago is about to get a new four-wheel-drive system and a nine-speed automatic transmission with stop-start. A facelift for the LR4 is in the works, too.

As well, the new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport will get a diesel hybrid powertrain next year. It's not entirely clear whether the diesel hybrid will be sold in Canada and the U.S., though it would make sense. The lower emissions and better fuel economy of a diesel hybrid SUV would give Land Rover a boost, for sure.

Former Land Rover brand boss John Edwards, who now has a strategy role at Jaguar Land Rover, told in a separate interview that the new Defender will be as rugged as the outgoing one. Owners, he said, value the "ability to hose down the interior."

Automotive News reports that Bernstein Research believes a Defender replacement will not go on sale until 2019 at the earliest. "The Defender replacement remains far from ready due to a lack of volume and weak business case," Bernstein analyst Max Warburton wrote in a recent report on Jaguar Land Rover.

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The Land Rover DC100 concept premiered at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show Land Rover Land Rover

You wouldn't know that from the crowds that surrounded the DC100 concept at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show. It was billed as a preview of a new Defender and sparked plenty of speculation.

The buzz now suggests that a future Defender will share the new Range Rover platform and have an all-aluminum body. That would make sense. The reduced weight would help the next Defender accommodate fuel economy and emissions rules.

Land Rover really isn't Land Rover without a Defender in the lineup. This rig has a cult following around the world and certainly here in Canada. Rabid Defender fans hold onto their antiquated rigs and love them like precious cargo.

Everyone surely agrees that Land Rover needs a Defender in the lineup. The Defender was Land Rover's first model built and since the beginning in 1948, more than two million have been sold. Land Rover without a Defender is like Ford without a Mustang, Volkswagen without a Beetle, and Porsche without a 911.

Yes, there will be an all-new Defender and it will most certainly be a global model. A Defender for the world is the only way Land Rover can make the business case.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More


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