Few people get the opportunity to relaunch an iconic vehicle brand anywhere in the world, but bringing the reborn Land Rover Defender to Canada sets up Jaguar Land Rover Canada for a string of conquest sales in the luxury off-road segment, says company President Wolfgang Hoffmann.
“The biggest news for us is that the Land Rover story is now complete. Now we have the third family, which is Defender,” Hoffmann said.
Each family is distinctive, according to Hoffmann.
“You have the refined aspect on the Range Rover side. You have the versatility in the Discovery family with the seven-seat configuration, and then the Defender is the capable and durable side, the ruggedness, that goes back to our roots,” he said. “You don’t have many moments in a career when you can launch an icon again.”
Hoffmann would not disclose sales expectations for the 2020 Defender, which goes on sale in the spring, but “it will be a significant volume within our portfolio.”
Given the Defender’s distinct character, Hoffmann doesn’t expect it will siphon off sales of other Land Rover products.
“We are a strong conquest brand and always have been. Might some customers come in who might have bought a Discovery and now buy a Defender? It could be, but I think the numbers will be small because the needs and mindsets are different.”
The second coming of the Land Rover Defender in Canada is likely to have more staying power than the first.
The 2020 model is the long-awaited successor to the previous incarnation of Land Rover’s iconic off-roader, a direct descendant of the 1948 original Land Rover that in turn was inspired by the Second World War Willys Jeep. The Defender is to Land Rover as today’s Wrangler is to Jeep.
Production of the previous Defender ended in 2016, but the model was last sold in Canada in the mid-1990s.
By the end, recalls Land Rover enthusiast Kevin Corrigan, “the last ones were heavily discounted to get rid of them, but once you couldn’t get them they suddenly jumped in demand.
“Within two years, people were selling their two-year-old Defenders for $20,000 more than they paid for them.”
A recent search for used models in Canada on autotrader.ca produced 65 for sale. The asking price for many of them was $60,000 or more.
The reborn Defender taps into a trend that rejects the increasing domestication of utility vehicles. Automakers add off-road packages and field more rugged alternatives to their mainstream offerings.
That said, while exceptional off-road chops are a given, the new Defender is a far cry from its crude, body-on frame, solid-axled predecessors. The 2020 model has an independent suspension, aluminum unibody and a leather-rich interior with a 10-inch touch screen and all expected modern conveniences and driver aids.
That might be too much of a good thing for some Defender devotees.
“It’s nice, but not a Defender,” said Graham Prentice, who has personally imported many Defenders from Europe. “It’s posh. It may be off-road capable, but it’s not a Defender.”