A New Defender on the Roads?

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“The king is dead, long live the king” — or so the headline may read if Jim Ratcliffe, founder and CEO of one of the U.K.’s largest companies, is successful in his bid to create an entirely new and modern Defender following the demise of the old Land Rover Defender in 2016.

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Fans of the long-running Defender bemoaned its loss when Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) finally called time on the model last year. Reports that they intend to bring out a replacement in two years are dismissed by Ratcliffe as likely to be more Chelsea Tractor (British slang for a road-only 4×4) than a real Defender. JLR will go for more of a volume SUV, not a vehicle totally committed to the off road, he believes.

Judging by the firm’s gradual expansion of its range into more road-focused models, he may well be right.

 

Ratcliffe is a firm fan of the Defender, using them exclusively on his African expeditions. He is no newcomer to the model’s rugged design, or its less respected reliability, saying in the Telegraph “When I go on safari in Africa I always go in a Land Rover, but I always bring a picnic basket,” referring to the risk of breakdowns.

So the new car, currently named Project Grenadier until a vehicle name is chosen, will be a “rugged off-roader, which is unbreakable, go anywhere and does not have the reliability problems of the old Defender.”

With a fortune estimated at £3.2 billion, Ratcliffe is a highly respected business man, having made his fortune in chemicals. He is well known for his ability to squeeze financial support out of the government. So it comes as no surprise that he is playing the U.K. government off over state aid by suggesting while manufacturing would be better based in the U.K., from a heritage point of view, he is not averse to considering accessing the wealth of defunct carmaking capacity in Germany or sub-contracting manufacturing out to a contract manufacturer on the continent.

The Price Tag

The project does not come cheap.

Ratcliffe is planning on investing £500-600 million into the venture and producing 25,000 cars per year at a price of about £35,000 (roughly where the old Defender was when it was discontinued).

So popular was the old model that depreciation was almost non-existent, with owners managing to sell their 10-year-old cars for much the same as they paid for them.

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For fans of the old Defender, it seems like a dream come true. Although Ineos has a start date of 2020 for the first vehicles to come off the production line, there are as yet no detailed designs, making the time frame seem wildly optimistic.

Still, we wish him well. The old Defender was not perfect, but it was as British as a pint of bitter or the White Cliffs of Dover. Its sad demise spoke of a wider loss of Britishness that would be great to see reversed.

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