NEW 2007 DEFENDER

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INTERVIEW: ANDREW DANIEL, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF LAND ROVER SA

The quintessential Land Rover quintessentially improved

For Andrew Daniel, Managing Director of Land Rover South Africa, the arrival of the New 2007 Defender heralds the return of the Defender to the top of the serious 4×4 table.

“It’s a clichéd expression, but Defender is an iconic 4×4 – a vehicle with quite astonishing all-terrain capability. It’s always been part of the Land Rover culture as the ultimate, purist 4×4.”

Daniel says nothing illustrates the enduring nature of Defender better than its resistance to change. “Despite three attempts at creating a new, better Defender, the development engineers came back every time with a vehicle that looked remarkably similar to its predecessor.”

The reason, he adds, is quite simple: the Defender shape is an efficient expression of function, rather than an aesthetic statement. “Once you’ve given the designers the specific requirements and some basic measurements, the result always boils down to  … a Defender.

“In other words, Defender has retained essentially the same shape and dimensions because it provides the best possible package for the uncompromising 4×4 role the vehicle fulfils.”

Used by adventurers, professionals, utility companies and the military in the most trying conditions around the globe, Defender is, for many, the ultimate 4×4.

“It’s always been a part of our culture,” says Daniel. “But it is extremely basic. It’s a tool, a machine – and not just a vehicle. Yes we have continuously improved and upgraded it. But Defender has essentially remained true to its original intentions.

The launch of New 2007 Defender marks an important milestone for Land Rover’s most enduring model.

“To be fair, both BMW and Ford wanted to kill it – because it takes three to four times as much labour time to build the Defender compared to any of our other products,” Daniel points out.

“It only really survived because of a very real passion for the vehicle. Many of the buyers who purchase a Defender do so because they consider Defender the best tool for the job. Once you’ve seen what a Defender can do, it’s hard to deny that.

“We have a large base of very loyal customers. But longevity is also one of Defender’s primary attractions:  because it has an aluminium body, it can last a very long time.”

In South Africa in particular, the versatility of the Defender has also been a huge boon, Daniel says. “It’s always been a vehicle that you can accessorise, or tailor, to best suit a particular application.”

The advent of New 2007 Defender marks Land Rover’s commitment to ensuring the brand stands its ground as the producer of a truly authentic, original 4×4.

“In the last five years, it would be true to say that some of our competitors have taken some of that ground away from us, simply by offering greater comfort and convenience. That situation was eating away at us.”

But the real turning point came when the old engines no longer complied with regulations, while there were also some safety issues to consider.

“We had to make a big decision whether to address all the issues, both legislative and those that had been raised by customers over the years, and create the best ever Defender, or not.

“And once the decision had been made to improve Defender, the intention was always to do so comprehensively, rather than a bit here and a bit there,” Daniel says.

Bearing in mind that from a size/dynamics perspective, the Defender was already at its optimum, the focus of attention was very much on the performance and the interior of the vehicle.

“And that’s what new Defender is all about: more power, better performance, lower emissions, better economy, and enhanced comfort.

“It’s also important to remember that Ford’s recognised expertise in manufacturing quality has greatly benefited the Defender. It may look very similar from the outside, but the engineering quality and the tolerances, are much, much better than before.

“It’s the best built Defender we’ve ever sold, especially considering that it is a largely hand-built vehicle,” Daniel says. “We now believe we can get back to where we should be on the sales charts, with a product that is a lot more competitive than before.”

According to Daniel, global sales of Defender average around 25 000 vehicles a year. “So it’s not a big volume player, but the challenge is to make it profitable, and in doing so to extend its viability.

“It may not be a big profit earner for the group. But it is still a key part of the Land Rover presence in the market, and it still sets the benchmark in ultimate 4×4 capability.”

Daniel expects demand for New 2007 Defender in South Africa to be strong. “Yes, the changes will definitely benefit its market share here, although our initial focus is to make up lost ground. Of course, the volatility of the SA vehicle sales landscape makes it difficult to predict actual sales gains.

“Having said that, there is a great amount of interest in the New Defender, and not only from our existing, loyal client base. Let’s say we’re quietly confident.”

Commenting on Land Rover’s decision to limit the New 2007 Defender’s top speed, Daniel says the decision was made because of safety reasons.

“We have a safety responsibility to limit the speed, given the vast range of applications the Defender will be used for: the way it may be loaded, and the various wheel and tyre combinations employed.”

He adds that while the issue has been raised by virtually every market in the world, the global customer base has not perceived it as a negative in reality. “It is not deemed a big issue – not even in Germany, where speed is a matter of national pride.”

For Daniel, there is no doubt that the New 2007 Defender is the best iteration of Land Rover’s quintessential off-roader to date. “We are making it as good as we can make it. The improvements are vast and varied, and they translate into a much better overall package.

“It’s also important to remember that the Land Rover Defender is inextricably connected to Africa – it is an expected and admired part of the African landscape.”

He adds that New Defender remains at the core of the off-road authenticity that Land Rover products across the range enjoy.

“The Defender is part of what we are, part of the Land Rover DNA, part of the adventure spirit that defines what Land Rover is, and key to the many utility applications Defender is used for.”