Wednesday 7 January 2015

JLR: New life for ‘old’ Defender

JaguarLandRover (JLR) is to build its ‘classic’ Defender 4x4 vehicle at an overseas location to cover sales outside the EU.
In an apparent volte-face, JLR is looking seriously at launching production of the 65-years-old Land Rover Defender at an as-yet un-named production location, most likely on a CKD (completely knocked down) basis.

Previously, JLR has announced that it would cease UK production of the Defender by the end of 2015.

Now, it seems, after carefully considering future product plans, the company has had a change of heart, being mindful of a potential loss of sales to competitive vehicles in regions outside the European Union.

JLR is ending production in the UK to make way for the next generation of the ubiquitous vehicle.

However, there has been growing pressure for the company to look again at its future product plans, and continue with production of the ‘old’ Defender. Product planners are also aware that the ‘old’ Defender offers the potential to launch a ‘new’ and effectively ‘free’ new product in emerging markets in Asia and Africa at a low cost.

The on-costs of engineering, preparing and launching the ‘old’ Defender are relatively modest and appear attractive enough for the proposal to be seriously considered.

A spokesperson for Land Rover declared: “Land Rover is investigating the possibility of maintaining production of the current Defender at an overseas facility, after the closure of UK manufacturing. Any continuation would see low-volume production maintained for sale outside the EU.”

Bearing in mind that JLR is owned by Tata Motors, which has an engineering facility in the shape of the Tata Motors European Technical Centre at Warwick, close to Warwick University and the Warwick Manufacturing Group, a possible location for a CKD facility or one using locally-sourced parts could be within one of Tata’s Indian production sites.

Engineers at Warwick have a close association with engineers at JLR’s Gaydon engineering and development site.

Alternatively, with JLR expanding its operations into China this too could provide a possible location for production.

Whichever, those familiar with the cost-benefit exercises will have access to unit production costs in the UK and the potential cost of producing parts in India, China or in locations elsewhere, to the required quality and volumes. There will also be an opportunity for engineers to revue powertrain options, especially the sourcing of engines.

Some will recall that in the days when Mayflower Corporation was a thriving, albeit heavily indebted automotive components supplier, the company’s operations provided some stampings from its unit in Coventry. Stadco, headquartered in Shrewsbury, through its parent company, acquired some of the assets of Mayflower, including the purchase of the Fort Parkway stamping facility in Castle Bromwich, almost adjacent to Jaguar’s Castle Bromwich stamping and assembly works.

It will be interesting to see how JLR engineers and purchasing staff resolve the various issues associated with producing ‘old’ Defender in a ‘new’ facility. No doubt one of the issues which will have to be addressed will be that of training. Meanwhile, while 'old' Defender may boast a few self-piercing rivets this will not be the case for 'new' Defender which will continue the trend already set by Jaguar with X760 and X260. No decision has yet been taken as to where new Defender will be made.

And, as many components in ‘old’ Defender use aluminium, it may be possible that JLR will revisit metal joining techniques in the light of the latest developments in the technology.

The original Land Rover was renamed ‘Defender’ in 1990, a year after the new Discovery model went on sale. A major revamp in 2007 introduced a six-speed gearbox. Around 25,000 are sold each year across the world and existing models show no signs of giving up. Series I Land Rovers sent to Costa Rica to work on coffee plantations in the 1950s are still being used to this day.

A number of updates introduced in 2012 saw the Defender equipped with the 2.2-litre tdci diesel engine that delivered the same power and economy as its 2.4-litre forebear.

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