2020 Land Rover Defender Splashing Into U.S. Soon
Land Rover remains on track to start selling the new 2020 Land Rover Defender in the U.S. this spring, starting with the longer-wheelbase 110 model followed by the shorter 90 shortly after. Of course, that can change in the current climate of shutdowns, lockdowns, quarantines, and more reverberating across the world economy. But for now, let's relish the revived SUV's current status.AdChoices
Europeans only had to go a few years without the iconic Defender 4x4. Production of the Defender ended in January 2016 at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull, U.K., after a 68-year run. But, for Americans the return of the iconic Defender has been 23 years in the making, since the last one was sold in the U.S. in 1997.
Come back to motortrend.com on March 24 to get full driving impressions.
The new 2020 Defender is assembled at a much larger new plant in Nitra, Slovakia, that also builds the Discovery. The Slovak plant will be temporarily closed next week for health reasons with some staff remaining to support the Defender launch. Regardless of whether there is a slight delay, the launch will have a big impact on the automaker. "We have been waiting for the Defender on this side of the ocean," said Joe Eberhardt, President and CEO of Jaguar Land Rover North America, in an interview with MotorTrend. "There has been a 23-year void for us in the U.S." We can't wait to tell you about the new Defender, either—so check back with us on March 24 for our first impressions behind its wheel!
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So, Why Is the 2020 Defender's Arrival So Key?
Adding the Defender obviously helps sales volumes, Eberhardt says, noting that 80 percent of the SUV's early hand-raisers and unique visitors to the automaker's website who configured a Defender are new to the Land Rover brand. The new SUV was first shown in fall 2019 at the Frankfurt auto show and in the first six months after that, the Land Rover website had more than 7 million unique visitors and almost half a million virtual build configurations. People even started putting down deposits.
"I fully expect the Defender to be up with our best-selling vehicles," said Eberhardt, noting the Land Rover Range Rover Sport sells about 24,000 units a year.
As important, says the CEO, is the Defender is the final piece in the overall Land Rover brand strategy that consists of three families or sub-brands of vehicles: Range Rover, Discovery, and Defender. "Hopefully, it allows us to really communicate the purpose of each of the families and sub-brands in support of the master brands."
The full portfolio is unified by design and engineering excellence, Eberhardt says. They share core DNA but accentuate certain elements to differentiate them. Range Rover stands for ultimate luxury and refinement. Discovery stands for versatility and functionality. And the Defender is the ultimate in terms of durability and capability. It was difficult to get the differences across in the past without the Defender, which Eberhardt describes as the missing third leg of the stool.
"Hopefully when customers look at the entire lineup now, it is clearer what the intent of the overall brand strategy is. It gives the Defender a very unique and specific place but it also allows for a sharper and more focused positioning for Discovery."
Now Disco Makes Sense
Many were critical of the Discovery, saying it did not look like an LR4, the rig it replaced. "True but that was on purpose because we knew that the Defender was going to come and if the Discovery was too rugged, too off-road oriented, it would have clashed with the family," Eberhardt said. With the Defender back in the portfolio, the Discovery makes more sense.
Discovery sales might also benefit from having the Defender in the showroom, but there could also be some cannibalization. The hope is the halo over the Defender will help the whole portfolio. "It gets people in the showroom. It focuses attention on the brand. My hope is that every other product benefits from it as well but maybe the Discovery more so than others. We don't necessarily plan for it. When you do product planning you always look at the other side: will your current line be cannibalized to a certain extent? We anticipate that some Defender sales will come from current Land Rover owners."
Meanwhile, reports continue to surface that a smaller Defender 80 is in the works to compete with the Ford Bronco Sport, as well as a Defender 130 with more room in the third row, and, even less likely, a Defender pickup to chase after off-road beasts such as Ford's F-150 Raptor or Jeep's nearly as pricey Gladiator. So far, they are all unconfirmed rumor and speculation. One thing that is true: there is mystique to the Defender name, and enough to carry a family of vehicles.