Jaguar Land Rover will build the replacement of its iconic Land Rover Defender at its new plant in Nitra, Slovakia, the company confirmed.
The Defender has long been rumoured as the second model to be built alongside the Land Rover Discovery large SUV at the Nitra factory, which opened last year with an annual capacity of 150,000 vehicles.
No date was given for the start of Defender production, but JLR has previously said the SUV will be unveiled later this year. That means Defender output is likely to start next year.
Land Rover also revealed a teaser picture of the long-wheelbase version of the Defender, confirming that it sticks with the same squared-off shape as the original off-roader. Land Rover stopped production of that version of the Defender in early 2016 after a 67-year run.
Land Rover also shared pictures of camouflaged Defender prototypes taken during testing, which has so far reached a cumulative 1.2 million kilometers (745,000 miles), the company said.
The pictures showed that Land Rover will produce both long- and a short-wheelbase versions of the car, mirroring the model lineup of the previous Defender. The new Defender will rival dedicated off-road vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Land Cruiser and cheaper versions of the Mercedes-Benz G class.
Land Rover has acknowledged that replacing an icon such as the Defender has been difficult. “We were aware that the continuation of the Defender would not be an easy launch. Every vehicle launch is difficult. But a successor to an icon faces an exceptionally high bar,” JLR CEO Ralf Speth told Automotive News Europe German sister publication Automobilwoche. He predicted “strong demand” for the model.
Despite the similarities in profile, the new Defender “won’t be just a facsimile that addresses the legislative issues of the old one,” Land Rover’s design director, Gerry McGovern, told Automotive News Europe in 2017, referring to the emissions and safety legislation that helped kill the original. He said the design would instead try to imagine what the Defender would look like if it had followed a normal seven-year model replacement cycle. “We have to create a new Defender for a new generation,” he said.
The decision to build the iconic model outside of JLR’s UK home market will disappoint fans who were hoping production could stay in the same Solihull, central England, plant that built the original car.
JLR announced plans to open the Nitra plant at the height of its profitability and when it needed to expand its then-cramped production capacity. Today, the company has too much capacity as demand has plummeted in China, which used to be the automaker's biggest market.
JLR has enough global capacity to build 901,000 vehicles a year, according to its figures, while sales in 2018 fell 4 percent to 518,730.
JLR is currently enacting an austerity plan that seeks to save 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2 million) after posting a 3.7 billion pound loss for the first three quarters of its 2018-19 financial year.