How do you replace a car that has been a success for more than sixty years? Land Rover thinks it may finally have the answer, in the form of a new concept, codenamed DC100, to be shown at this month's Frankfurt Motor Show.
For years, the company has agonised over the question of whether or how to produce a successor to its rugged Defender, a model that is a direct descendent of the first, rather basic 4x4 to carry the Land Rover name in 1948. The Defender isn't a particularly big seller in the overall Land Rover scheme of things – most of the growth these days comes from the company's luxurious Range Rover line-up, which is just about to receive another big boost with the first deliveries this month of the new baby Range Rover, the Evoque.
On the other hand the rough and ready Defender is the source of much of the company's reputation for tough go-anywhere off-road capability, a reputation that probably helps underpin sales of the posher models too. The Defender has also long been a favourite with military customers and utility customers, and a replacement could also help Land Rover fight back in emerging markets where it has ceded a lot of ground to Japanese competitors.
Land Rover strikes a somewhat equivocal note on the subject of just how closely the next Defender, due in 2015, will resemble the DC100. The company's design chief, Gerry McGovern, says “This isn't a production-ready concept but the beginning of a four-year journey to design a relevant Defender for the 21st century”, and John Edwards, Land Rover's Global Brand Director wants the people who might buy the car to influence the process - this from the company that fought so hard to preserve almost every detail of the 2008 LRX as it was turned into the Evoque.
The equivocation is understandable; the Defender is, after all, an almost impossible act to follow. But it may also reflect uncertainty about other questions – whether to produce a truly bare-bones, back-to-basics take on the Defender theme, for example, as opposed to something plusher in line with other modern Land Rover models, which would also influence the technical architecture of the new model.