Landie Dying, Will Rise Again (Iconically)
By Jonathan Poet
The Land Rover Defender has been around in its current form for nearly 30 years, and the current model can draw a pretty straight line to the 1948 Series I. But time is short for the Landie. Stricter safety and emissions standards coming in 2015 are going to kill it.
Tata, the Indian carmaker that recently bought Land Rover from Ford, has undertaken "Project Icon," an effort to create a new Defender. Its challenge is immense: design a successor that has the same ability to swallow terrain like the current vehicle, build it for less money and sell many more of them. (It also might not hurt to appease those who have grown to love the vehicle over the past 60-plus years.)
There are various insights into how the company might accomplish this. Tata recently said it is shifting some Land Rover production to India, so it's possible the new vehicle could be built there, rather than in Solihull, England. The new model also could be a hybrid.
The current Defender definitely keeps the utility in sport utility vehicle. Ground clearance is 13 inches. Water up to 20 inches deep doesn't bother it. Neither do inclines up to about 45 degrees. Mileage? As they say, "If you have to ask …"
The Defender hasn't been sold in the U.S. since the late 1990s. I test drove one on a lark just before its U.S. demise. (In British Racing Green, of course.) The ride included the salesman navigating an on-the-dealership-lot obstacle course of various inclines and rough terrain. It was great fun.
That kind of fun might come back to the States, because the vehicle that comes out of the "Project Icon" initiative seems very likely to wind up in U.S. showrooms.