With the new Defender, Land Rover took the bold step of reinventing its tough and utilitarian workhorse as a modern SUV with hints to its past, rather than an outright retro throwback model that is more style than substance. It has clearly paid off, too, as the Defender’s success since its 2020 launch has surpassed even Land Rover’s expectations. Production has been ramped up to match and the brand is now producing 50 percent more Defenders than it had originally planned.
- Defender demand exceeded Land Rover’s own projections
- All-electric Defender driven by regulation, market demand
- Smaller Defender would adapt look, feel of full-size SUV
This is despite having several models of a similar size and capability, with common platforms, engines and technology, in the form of the Discovery, Range Rover Sport and Range Rover. Clearly, the Defender’s appeal lies in its tough appearance and unabashedly boxy shape, which has thus far translated well to three body lengths – 90, 110 and 130. Land Rover, understandably, wants to capitalise on this popularity and expand the Defender family beyond the aforementioned three models.
Land Rover Defender EV on the cards
The next logical step for the Defender is undoubtedly an all-electric version. This is the direction JLR is headed, and overseas, PHEV variants are already on offer with more than 43 kilometres of electric-only range. However, it remains to be seen how the Defender’s toughened D7x platform can be adapted to accommodate a large battery pack with sufficient range. The Range Rover’s new MLA Flex platform, on the other hand, was designed to go electric from the start, so perhaps an adaptation of this would work.
With key rivals like the Mercedes-Benz G-class and Jeep Wrangler already having shown all-electric concept studies, it’s only a matter of time before they hit the market. Meanwhile, American brands have already gone gung-ho into electric off-roaders with EV pick-up trucks from Ford, GM and Ram, as well as the new, all-electric Hummer.
More than just market demand, a company source told us the decision for a Defender EV would be driven by ever-tightening emissions regulations. For a brand that makes only SUVs, electrification across the board is the only way to secure its future.
Smaller ‘Defender 70’ could reach a wider audience
With the current Defender having the large SUV market locked up with its 90, 110 and 130 bodystyles, it’s understandable that the next step is downward, and while not confirmed yet, we have learnt it is being evaluated. After all, each sub-brand – Defender, Discovery and Range Rover – is treated as a family of SUVs, each with its own purpose – utility, recreation and luxury, respectively.
The strategy of shrinking down the flagship SUV worked exceptionally well for Range Rover with the Evoque (and Velar) and Discovery with the Discovery Sport, and as a result, Land Rover has the platforms ready to go for the Defender too. There is the consideration of the Defender’s defining trait of go-anywhere ability, but then all Land Rover models have off-road prowess built into them, so toughening things up further should be easy. More important will be recreating the Defender’s characteristic square-sided look and delivering a degree of practicality, which won’t be quite as easy given the smaller dimensions.
As for the underpinnings, the obvious choice would be the PTA (Premium Transverse Architecture) platform introduced with the new Range Rover Evoque. It supports ICE and PHEV powertrains with a transverse-engine layout and sizeable underfloor battery storage space. However, for an electric version of this smaller Defender, Land Rover would likely turn to its upcoming EMA (Electrified Modular Architecture) platform, which it is lining up for the next-gen Evoque and Velar.
Do you think a smaller Defender model would be as successful as the big ones? Let us know in the comments section below.