Radical redesign for Land Rover faces rough ride

 

Is it a car? Is it a van? Is it a crane, a troop carrier or an ambulance?

The versatile and much cherished Land Rover Defender has been all of these, its design remaining almost unchanged in more than 60 years. But now the car's makers have unveiled a new and radically different concept car, which points the famous Defender in a new and not altogether popular direction.

The company has said it will bring a new, modern version of its Defender truck to market in 2015, at the same time as revealing pictures of a concept vehicle called the DC100, which will appear at the Frankfurt Motor Show next month, and which hints at the next-generation Defender's appearance.

The DC100 is a distinct departure from the elevated shoebox-like shape of the Defender, a car with a large cult following, and many are not impressed.

"The first time I saw it I thought it was fake," said Simon Ward-Hastelow, editor of Land Rover World. "Someone emailed me the pictures a couple of hours before the official launch. I didn't believe that was it. On our Facebook page and in our inbox we've not had one positive response. It looks like a Kia Soul. But then, I guess we are enthusiasts for the original."

Hand-built in the Midlands, the tough, unglamorous Defender was equally popular with farmers, leisure users, and particularly the military.

"We've only got two photos sofar," said Mr Ward-Hastelow. "But I can't see how they're going to makeit modular.

"The existing Defender is a platform you can turn into anything... that was one of the big selling points, you could put anything on the back of it. I can't see how they will do that with this one, but then the pictures we've seen are just the 'civilian' form."

It is a problem that Gerry McGovern, Land Rover's director of design, understands all too well.

"Replacing the iconic Defender is one of the biggest challenges in the automotive design world; it is a car that inspires people worldwide," he said. "This isn't a production-ready concept but the beginning of a four-year journey to design a relevant Defender for the 21st century."

The Defender was developed from the first Land Rover series, launched in Britain in 1948. For many it is a bastion of British design and engineering. When US forces noticed during the first Gulf War that the British Army's vehicles were better suited to air-lifting and for operations in urban areas, they began using them in place of their own beloved Humvee.

The British Army has used Land Rovers since the 1950s, as have many countries in the Commonwealth of Nations.

"Loved the world over for its simple, honest and distinctive design, we are determined that the new Defender will be true to its heritage, while meeting the requirements of a changing global market," said John Edwards, Land Rover's global brand director. But for some of its most ardent fans, the DC100 is a stuttering start.

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