Outline plans to build the new model in India, probably alongside a related Tata SUV, have also been dropped. A further consequence of the surprise move is that the planned JLR engine factory in India has also been put on ice.
Although a replacement Defender is currently in the works, John Edwards, Land Rover’s global brand director, has been quoted as saying the new Defender will not go into production in 2015 as originally envisaged. The current Defender will still be retired in 2015, however, partly because of the impossibility of meeting future legislation.
It is thought that the latest plans for the new Defender, which is certainly three years away, are to create a more premium-level product and build it on a version of JLR’s new, all-aluminium PLA architecture.
Land Rover’s aluminium body shop can currently handle 95,000 vehicles per year on three shifts, but there is already existing room for expansion to 180,000 units. Even so, Land Rover has started work on a further extension of the body shop, suggesting it expects to roll out more than four models based on the PLA platform.
The upshot is that it’s highly likely that a new ‘premium’ Defender will be a sister car to the next-generation flagship model of the expanded Discovery range (see p10), with both models based on a new, marginally smaller version of the PLA architecture.
Sources say Land Rover is confident of being able to buy aluminium at a highly competitive price from its new joint venture in Saudi Arabia. This, and premium pricing, means building the car in the UK would be cost-competitive.
Autocar understands that the decision to shake up plans to replace the Defender has been prompted, at least in part, by the fact that the health of the automotive division of parent company Tata is in question. After suffering a sales humiliation with the super-budget Nano, the company has also seen its new Aria SUV massively undershoot sales expectations.
New car sales in India have gone into freefall in the past six months. Without Tata Motors making significant sales progress, any planned co-operation with Jaguar Land Rover on a back-to-basics Defender is not financially viable.
Autocar also understands that the product development boss hired to oversee the new Defender argued strongly against using a separate chassis construction and trying to compete globally, particularly with Toyota, in the market for commercial SUVs.