The current model Defender was introduced in 1983 and has remained largely unchanged during its 28 year production. Refinements have been made along the way, but it still remains the same utilitarian 4×4 vehicle that can clearly trace its roots back to the original 1948 Series I.
The classic Defender is largely hand-assembled in a costly and laborious process. Tata, parent company of Land Rover, appears to have been struggling with how to update the manufacturing process to modern automated standards, while maintaining the customizability the current platform affords with literally dozens of Defender types available.
Sources say that a portion of the delay in designing the vehicle stems from Land Rover’s understanding of the importance of their flagship vehicle. While some argue the rest of the Land Rover product line has strayed from the original brand mission, the Defender has always stayed true to its roots, and the symbol of Land Rover capability. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) seems to understand this importance, and the need to “get it right”, which have played a factor in the long design time. This importance is perhaps best symbolized by the new vehicles internal codename “Project Icon”.
Sources have stated we may see a split in the Defender product offering, with a utilitarian vehicle being offered for military, NGO and humanitarian organizations and a softened “lifestyle” vehicle sold primarily to civilian markets. We sincerely hope that’s not the case. The Jeep Wrangler’s reputation as the most capable 4×4 utility vehicle has gone largely unchallenged in North America since the last exit of the Defender in 1997. With the advent of the Jeep JK Unlimited Rubicon, the Wrangler has become a serious challenger to the Defender 110 as a highly capable overlanding vehicle. The introduction of a new true utilitarian Defender could provide a serious challenge to the wildly popular JK and re-establish Land Rover’s place as the Best 4x4xFar.