The teaser photos released just after Christmas of the 2020 Defender accomplished Land Rover's goal of dominating the automotive news cycle for a few days before New Year's. But the silhouette of the vehicle, clearly visible under the camouflage, disappointed many Defender fans.
Critics of new Defender design should reserve judgment
First: There's more to the teaser photos that can't be seen. And second: Designing the new Defender was always going to upset one group of fans or another.
Just over a year ago when I saw McGovern, I asked him about his vision for the next Defender. He laid it out straight: "I am a modernist," he told me. "I'm looking forward, not back."
But if we look at how McGovern's team has overseen the Range Rover and Discovery design language — paying homage to each vehicle's iconic design cues but marrying them with the latest lighting technologies and materials and with aerodynamic tweaks — you'll have a good idea of what the 2020 Defender really looks like.
While no one argues that the original Land Rover Series 1, 2 and 3 and later Defender models are not among the industry's most recognized and loved vehicles, there is probably no way that same basic shape could be revised for duty in the coming years.
Land Rover, like all other automakers, has strict global emissions and safety standards to meet, rules that were not even being dreamed of by politicians when the original Land Rover was designed as an agricultural vehicle in the mid-1940s.
The Defender coming in 2020 has to be a completely modern vehicle if it is going to compete with other rugged, off-road vehicles from Toyota, Nissan, Jeep and Mercedes.
That means, unlike the Defender that went out of production in 2016, the new version will need to be watertight. It must have a suitable air conditioner and heater. It can't rattle and have massive air leaks around the convertible top and windows. And like all modern vehicles, the new Defender has to be able to protect not only occupants in a crash, but pedestrians, too.
Accomplishing all that while retaining the basic shape of the original Defender might not have been technically possible to do without an unlimited budget. And price is a key factor here. Land Rover needs to sell a lot of Defenders globally and at a reasonable profit. The old model, mostly hand-built, didn't return much cash to Land Rover's bank account.
To those who see the photos outlining the next Defender and are disappointed, I would say:
1. Let's wait until the camouflage is off, so we can see the real vehicle and all of its design details. McGovern's team understands the Defender's unique place in automotive history. There's likely all sorts of shape-changing foam and other items under the camo designed to disguise the vehicle's true appearance.
2. The Defender has almost always been about enabling the driver to fearlessly — and safely — venture far off-road and into the most inhospitable terrain. Let's wait and see how capable the Defender is, outfitted with Land Rover's suite of all-terrain driving technologies.
3. We know nothing of the models slated for production or pricing. Let's see how the Defender performs against the competition.
If we look at how retro-styled vehicles have fared over the last 20 years, with few exceptions, nostalgia is a dead-end road. A new Defender must be safe, fuel efficient, extremely capable off-road and tough looking. But it doesn't have to be a dead ringer for a 1955 model.
You may email Richard Truett at [email protected]
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