The Defender, which Land Rover has been selling in one form or another since 1948, has been sentenced to death.
No exact date of death has been set, but Land Rover says it will end Defender production by “mid-decade”. That could be as soon as next year.
The cause of death is a combination of corporate inaction, limited resources, safety issues and slowing sales. Only 560-odd vehicles had been sold worldwide to date in 2013. Maybe a lack of a serious re-design in the last 30 years has had something to do with the sag in sales.
The Defender has always been Land Rover’s most macho and most iconic vehicle. And despite a rather spotty reliability record, it has a reputation as a rugged off-road vehicle. Land Rover says it has sold more than two million Defenders over the years.
Land Rover stopped selling the Defender in the United States some 16 years ago. Why? Because they couldn’t seem to figure out how to install airbags for the driver and front seat passenger, to meet new U.S. government safety guidelines. (Used Defenders command such high prices among its small cult of fans that a robust market in illegal Defender imports has sprung up. The feds have tried to crack down by crushing any such “gray market” Defenders it finds.)
Sales have continued in other countries with less robust safety regulations. But now even Third World countries are enacting more stringent auto safety regulations, and Land Rover can’t or won’t re-design the Defender to meet even the most basic regulations. (Land Rover did introduce a battery-electric powered Defender concept on the 2013 international auto show circuit; but only a handful of “demonstration” versions were under consideration.)
A replacement was supposedly in the works, but the company seems to think soft-roaders such as the newish Evoque have better sales prospects, going forward. So for now, anyway, Land Rover’s resources are being focused on mall-busters, not ball-busters.
October 10, 2013