Since the cessation of the Land Rover Defender in 2015, there has been quite a bit of speculation about what the new Defender should look like or do.
So, what does a futurist think they should do?
There are two schools of thought. First, Land Rover is a heritage icon that has changed automotive history. People that hold this position look back on the old bucket of bolts as a Meccano sets that can be reconfigured into as many options as the mind can imagine. This ‘heritage’ view of Land Rover Defender is a romantic view holds to a past that presented opportunities for a whole world of exploration. And there is more to be done by new generations. They want to explore new worlds with old technology.
As romantic as that world is, it is a fiction, created to extend the past into the future. Held by people who don’t like change, who want to stay where they are. Like politicians who think that our energy future is coal generation, Land Rover romantics are creating the future in the image of the past.
Land Rovers are to love, but their competitors are to buy.
And it is not just that people have become soft or that they want their creature comforts, technology has moved on.
The second school of thought is that Land Rover has lost its capacity to meet the needs of the modern explorer, or that the needs of the market have moved on. The softer city explorer vehicle has replaced a vehicle that outlived its usefulness, relegated to the mist of history. New tools do the same job with relative ease. More power, greater safety and better working conditions enable the modern explorer to get places more relaxed and see more when they get there.
As I sit here, writing this essay on the Land Rover, I recognise that I am romantic about the Land Rover. But I have come to the realisation that this romance is not about the machine but the idea that changed motoring history. I love Blue Ocean thinking, and this is a great example. The Land Rover changed more than motoring, it changed exploration.
The machine was the product of innovative thinking. Post-war Britain needed export products, had a shortage of iron and very limited resources, not to mention a surplus of aluminium. The Wilks brothers came up with an idea that was; innovative, risky, and completely untested. Nowhere had the market brought together agricultural instruments and transportation products. The concept was a Blue Ocean Strategy that would revolutionise everything.
A Blue Ocean Strategy is when a product creates a market where one did not exist. It did more than that, it did it at a time when explorers were hungry for new ways to get to places and bring back the stories.
Quite a lot has been written about the Wilks brothers invention. But very few people have identified what in marketing terms made the Land Rover a success. It was not just that they wanted to replace their Willie’s Jeep with an English competitor.
The Willies Jeep was a war transport machine designed for moving troops through the battlefield relatively quickly.
The Land Rover is an agricultural and touring vehicle. The Land Rover is exploration and new destinations. The Jeep is rambling and day trips.
Modern Jeeps retain their military Heritage, designed for short distance rough country travel. Land Rovers took on two distinct characteristics, the agricultural short wheelbase vehicle and the larger touring vehicle designed to carry people and goods over vast distances. The main game of the Land Rover soon became exploration or at least the vision of exploration. Land Rover sold a dream. To go where no one has been, to go beyond the road.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, the original Land Rover rapidly became the world’s primary safari vehicle. Japanese competitors, among others, focused on military vehicles and a civilian by-product. Land Rover, on the other hand, produced an exploration or safari vehicle that converted into a military by-product.
It was Land Rover in 1970 who invented the luxury off-road agricultural vehicle which later became the suburban tractor, and they gave the name Range Rover to it. The Range Rover entirely revolutionised the way that we think about four-wheel-drive vehicles.
So, what am I looking for in the next iteration of the Land Rover Defender?
Is it to be an extension an evolution of the Land Rover Defender?
No, I am looking for a vehicle that will be just as revolutionary as the 1950s Land Rover and the 1970s Range Rover. I am looking for the next Blue Ocean experience.
If Jaguar Land Rover is to do something extraordinary, then I think it will be an electric vehicle with direct drive to the wheels, perhaps a hybrid in the short term, built on a carbon fibre body that will be just as malleable, changeable and adaptable as vehicles of the past. New options will make us rethink the off-road on-road vehicle altogether. Perhaps it will be a driverless machine navigating all the terrain we have become accustomed to exploring, but this time with amphibious capabilities. Maybe it will fly. It will belong to the digital age and the age of the environment. It will float across the land and into our hearts. It will promise something new, but it will begin its journey where modern roads end.
I am not a designer, so I do not know how to resolve this issue through a design process. But I am a futurist, and I know that the past gives us insight into the future only when we look at the risks taken in the past. Only when we repeat them. Only when we explore new thinking.
Land Rover looked at the advice of their marketing department in 1970 and said; it is wrong! We will build something luxurious for people to travel off-road. The marketing department thought they were nuts. History demonstrates that they were nuts, they underestimated the size of the new market. They under estimated their capacity to supply. But they created a new market once again.
If the Land Rover of the future is to rise to the occasion; it will do something extraordinary, it will embrace future technology as no car manufacturer has. It will lead the way to a new frontier.
When Land Rover set a new standard; many will not like what they are doing; the marketing department will create new markets and sell something that makes us think differently about what we want and why we want it and how we transport ourselves.
That is what Land Rover has done in the past, that is what Land Rover needs to do now. No small ask.