Land Rover brought its long-awaited 2020 Defender to Frankfurt this week, but one long-standing member of the range was absent and with good reason. Land Rover has reportedly decided that there won’t be a new pickup version of the Defender. And that’s a damn shame.
According to a Motoring.com.au, a senior source at Jaguar Land Rover admitted that plans once existed for a pickup version of the new Defender, a model that would have been based on the still-forthcoming long-wheelbase “130” model that will slot in above the 90 and 110 already revealed.
The same source went on to explain that buyers should be satisfied with the load space the 110 5-door Still, it seems surprising that an industry source should be so flip about demand for pickups in Australia. Australia may have lost its car-based utes from Holden and Ford, but demand for more traditional pickups, especially rugged ones remains strong. Toyota, as you may know, continues to sell its Land Cruiser 70 in the market (South Africa gets these too), and even Kia is reportedly considering launching a truck there, which would be a first for the brand anywhere.
Still, while a pickup truck version of this Land Rover might not make it, there is a possibility such a vehicle could be brought to life as some kind of rebadge or collaboration with another automaker. Though it is far from confirmation, Mark Cameron, managing director of Jaguar Land Rover Australia, did suggest to Which Car, another Aussie site, that a Land Rover pickup could come through a partnership with another automaker to put a body-on-frame pickup into production. While pickups built with partners have not always worked well (looking at you, Nissan Navarra-based Mercedes X-Class and Toyota Hilux-based Volkswagen Taro), maybe Land Rover can swing it. They do have the right experience, after all.
Land Rover has produced a pickup since the very beginning, with versions of its first trucks coming in short-bed 80-inch format (later increased to 88 inches) or with a longer bed on an 107-inch wheelbase introduced in 1954. These early pickups for designed for farmers and often featured power take-offs for running agricultural equipment off of the truck’s motor.
The pickups would continue to be popular as the model evolved into the Series II and 90 and 110 lineups. Two-door pickups were available in both short- and long-wheelbases, the Commonwealth militaries making heavy use of the latter.
A longer four-door pickup called the 127 was also introduced, which quickly became the 130 that the later long Defender was named after. This pickup, called the High-Capacity Pickup or HCPU, featured a stretched wheelbase and wider box that was independent of the body. Even later on as the Defender became more of an off-road accessory and symbol of the rugged leisure lifestyle, the 130 remained a go-to choice for many municipalities and other organizations looking for a tough work truck.
With the Defender, Land Rover introduced another new pickup body style, the 110 double-cab (pictured at the top of the article). This pickup wedded a small integral box like the one on the 90 pickups, but with an extra set of doors. You may be familiar with these trucks from Bond films Skyfall and Spectre.
With this pedigree, it might seem obvious that Land Rover would want to keep the tradition alive and rejoin the ranks in the pickup market, but there are a number of complicating factors.
First, there’s the design of the new Defender, which is an issue in any market a pickup truck would be offered in. Unlike previous models, the new Landie is a unibody. Unless Land Rover was interested in competing with the Honda Ridgeline, a unibody Defender pickup would be basically alone in the market, hamstrung against competition that can tow and haul more by virtue of their body-on-frame designs. According to Consumer Reports, Land Rover claim that the new 90 and 110 can tow 8,701 pounds which is not unimpressive, but when an F=150 can pull upwards of 13,000 lbs, it’s hard to justify springing for a Defender instead.
The second factor is price. If we presume that a hypothetical Defender pickup would be based on the same roughly three-meter wheelbase as the 110 and forthcoming 130, the truck would be slotted into competition with mid-size trucks the world over. Around the world, that means going up against the Toyota Hilux and friends, the trucks that originally unseated the Defender, as well as the Mercedes X-Class (even though the Germans are finding that the luxury truck market isn’t quite so simple to crack).
In the United States, that would mean stepping up against the Tacoma, Ranger and Colorado, not to mention the Jeep Gladiator (and rumored Bronco-based pickup), perhaps a Defender pickup’s closest actual competition in terms of functionality. But the Defender would likely out-price all of those trucks (yes, even the Gladiator), with the 110 starting at nearly $50,000 already. A pickup would likely command a premium over the 110 that would bump prices up even more.
It’s true that average transaction prices for trucks in the United States are pretty high, and a Defender pickup would easily fit into the top half of the market price-wise when you look at full-size trucks. But at that point, the Defender would be fighting an uphill battle against America’s best selling vehicles, outclassed in size, and offering less for a significantly higher price point.
Last but not least, a Defender pickup would be a non-starter for the US market because of our good friend the Chicken Tax, which slaps a 25 percent duty on the hood of every light commercial vehicle to land on America’s shores. The new Defender is going to be built at a JLR facility in Slovakia, but even if it were built in Land Rover’s hometown of Solihull, England, the truck would probably never make it to the American market anyway, just like every Land Rover pickup since the tax was put in place.
The various Land Rover pickups, from the tiny 80-inch truck that started it all to the legitimately sizable 130 pickups, have been an important part of the brand’s heritage, showing that even in old age the Defender was built for hard work. The new Defender is certainly more leisure-oriented than any that came before, but the legacy of Land Rover’s pickups remains a reminder of where the truck came from. If a truck does come out that is the product of a partnership, perhaps it’ll have what it takes to stand up to the competition as well as to the Land Rover pickups that came before.