Land Rover faced the challenge of modernizing the off-roader to attract owners of the original model while also appealing to a new generation of buyers.
The updated Defender, which is upscale and has modern technology, quickly became a sales hit after its launch but this is the first time the model has overtaken the Land Rover Discovery Sport midsize SUV and the Range Rover Sport large SUV in the company’s global sales.
JLR has replicated the original vehicle's choice of body lengths by launching the 110 five-door and 90 three-door models. A longer 130 seven-seater is due later this year or early next year that will further expand the model's appeal in markets such as the U.S.
The sales success of the Defender in the last quarter could reflect JLR's strategy of prioritizing higher-profit models as it adapts to the shortage of semiconductors.
"We will be doing everything possible to mitigate the impact, including prioritizing the production of higher margin vehicles as well as making production specification changes where possible," JLR Chief Financial Officer Adrian Mardell said on an investor call earlier this month.
JLR told investors that it currently has its biggest-ever customer order bank, at just under 110,000 units.
Of those, 29,059 are for the Defender, it said. Defender production has been halted in Slovakia due to the shortages, JLR said at the end of June.
The Defender is built alongside the Discovery large SUV, which struggled in the quarter with sales of just 6,168.
JLR head of design Gerry McGovern has hinted that more variants of Defender are planned. "I'm absolutely convinced Defender will become a power brand in itself," he said on an investor call in February.
JLR has launched new engine variants earlier this year, including a new supercharged V-8 gasoline version of both the 90 and 110 Defender that makes 517 hp and accelerates the 90 version to 100 kph (62 mph) in 4.9 seconds.
The V-8 follows the introduction of a plug-in hybrid version of the 110 that combines a 2.0-liter gasoline engine with a 19.2-kilowatt hour battery and 105 kW electric motor to give a combined power of 398 hp and an electric-only range of up to 43 km (27 miles). The plug-in P400e's emissions are rated at 74 grams per km of CO2.