However, the project is not being contemplated merely to recreate an icon. Land Rover sees this as an opportunity to sell the kind of ‘premium durability’ SUV that no one else is making – in the same way as it opened a brand-new niche for the Range Rover Evoque – in a world market for 2.3 million functional 4x4s.
The company’s target is to make the new Defender as versatile and easy to configure as current models. It has an eye on sales to industrial users, farmers and international bodies like the UN as well as ordinary customers. However, producing specialist army versions – once an important source of sales for Land Rover – may be attractive in future, says brand chief John Edwards, but it won’t be the early priority.
The plan is to launch the car in 2015, at volumes industry watchers estimate at about 50,000 units a year.
At Frankfurt, the DC100 provides an impressive showcase for Land Rover’s accumulating store of new technology. Power is by 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engines with both hybrid and plug-in capabilities, driving through an eight-speed gearbox. Intelligent stop-start is standard, along with latest-generation Terrain Response (probably with a new ‘auto’ function to reduce driver workload). The powertrain has a traditional transfer box to provide permanent four-wheel drive, but it incorporates a ‘driveline disconnect’ system that decouples the rear axle to save fuel when all-wheel drive isn’t needed.
Among more speculative technology, the DC100 has solar panels on its roof, continuous internet connectivity, a new kind of key fob recognition called RFID (for Radio Frequency Identification) and a soft metallic silver finish for much of its interior to reflect the sun’s rays and keep the interior cooler. Much use is made of lightweight and recycled materials, to emphasise sustainability – a Land Rover watchword.
Interiors are trimmed with Ultrafabric and Superfabric, two new premium-feel materials of enormous durability, and the cabins contain built-in induction charging stations for battery-powered gadgets such as power tools.
Although Land Rover chiefs insist that reaction to the DC100 concepts will guide them in deciding the detail specification of their new model, much work has clearly already been done. The Sport concept – whose surfaces and dimensions are identical below the waistline to the original – is the best evidence yet that Land Rover bosses actually decided some months ago to replace their 63-year-old icon with an all-new model with similar abilities and key dimensions to the current model, but without the shortcomings.
Both DC100 concepts use “a lightweight, mixed alloy platform”, according to Land Rover’s official statement. More candidly, insiders say there are at two competing chassis options: a shortened and lightened version of the existing T5 (which has a main drawback of weight but also has a sophisticated all-independent suspension) or an all-new platform that would eventually be used in several wheelbases for a wide range of Defender models. Given the planned Defender model flexibility and required strength of the new model, there seems little doubt that any new chassis will be a separate ladder-frame design.
No conclusion has yet been reached about where the new Defender might be made, but Edwards believes that as much as 90 per cent of production could find buyers outside the UK (Land Rover sells in 167 export markets), which suggests that the model may well be manufactured abroad, perhaps in India, where parent company Tata Motors is based, or in China, where Land Rover sales are booming and are expected to grow larger still.