Testing of Land Rover Defender electric underway, confirms JLR CEO [Update]

  • British magazine Auto Express says the Defender EV will likely break cover in 2025, before reaching customers in 2026
  • Will use the MLA Flex platform that will also underpin electric versions of the RR and RR Sport
  • Minimal changes expected to the exterior & interior design; 300-mile range expected
  • 90, 110 & 130 variants are all expected to be fully electrified

Update: New photos added along with new commentary on the expected space and features of the Defender EV.

It is no news that every Land Rover model will adopt one or more zero-emission powertrains later this decade. The company is converting its large SUVs such as the Land Rover Defender, Discovery, Range Rover, and Range Rover Sport to have electric variants. Turning the Defender, which is the most off-road-focused model, into an EV would be the trickiest, considering how customers use the SUV.

Likely to launch in 2025, says a new British report

According to a December 2022 report from Auto Express, it seems like the mighty Land Rover Defender will become an all-electric model in 2025 when it is time for the SUV’s mid-cycle update. This is even more interesting given that the current L663 model only came about in 2020, and currently offers a plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Platform, Battery & Range

As per the Auto Express report, Land Rover could build the Defender electric variant on the newer and more sophisticated MLA Flex platform, instead of the D7 that underpins the standard Defender. This platform is currently used in some of the brand’s high-end models – the all-new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport.

Jaguar Land Rover Reimagine platforms MLA EMA BEV
Auto Express reports that the Defender EV will ditch the current D7 platform to utilize the MLA Flex that supports the new Range Rover family. Image Source: JLR

One of the highlights of the MLA platform is its versatility, as it can underpin regular internal combustion models while also accommodating fully-electric vehicles without much trouble. According to the Auto Express report, company insiders have pointed out that the MLA platform is capable of handling a 100 kWh battery pack, with hopes of an all-electric range of around 300 miles (presumed to be WLTP range).

Managing vehicle weight

Thierry Bollore, the former CEO of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), had said in 2021 that weight is a challenge with EVs. “They are already heavier than traditional car(s),” Bollore said, adding that it’s “especially because of batteries.” But the then-CEO was confident that the situation will change in the coming years, which is when we could see the ultimate Land Rover models with a zero-emission powertrain in showrooms. “There will be a step in the coming years where it’s going to come back in a virtuous circle as well,” he said.

Bollore was giving an insight into the future of JLR during a conference call after parent company Tata Motors announced its annual report for 2020-21.

Concerning the way to manage the power, the torque, the experience of the customer, I can tell you, especially with special capabilities of our cars, that Defender, well, our team has done already a lot of tests. I can tell you, it’s easier and more enjoyable with electric motors than it is today with the traditional drivetrain.

Thierry Bollore, former CEO, Jaguar Land Rover, in 2021

Design & Interior

Land Rover Defender Electric rendering
The Land Rover Defender EV (rendered) should feature a closed grille and bumper, new wheels, and perhaps body accents to differentiate it from the regular SUV.

However, those wanting to see drastic design changes in the Defender Electric might be disappointed. That’s because Land Rover isn’t expected to make major revisions in this department, most likely sticking to minor cosmetic tweaks (if at all) in what will otherwise be a mid-cycle facelift for the Defender. That said, the Defender Electric could come with a blanked front grille & bumper, possibly along with different wheel designs, paint options, and a slightly revised rear bumper, as expected with the Range Rover EV.

Land Rover Defender dashboard
As with the exterior, minimal changes are expected in the cabin of the Defender Electric, though the platform is different.

Similar to the outside, we would likely see the same approach on the inside of the Defender Electric. As the Auto Express story points out, the interior of the outgoing model has already been receiving so many compliments that there is hardly any reason for Land Rover to make too many changes here either. However, brands such as Volvo and Rolls-Royce (among several others) have already committed to using more sustainable and eco-friendly materials and designs in the cabins of their EVs. Land Rover is most likely to follow suit.

Competitors

Depending on the variant and pricing, the Defender Electric will probably find competition in a wide range of high-end EVs. Some of the possible options for those cross-shopping may include the Scout Electric SUV, Rivian R1S, and the Jeep Recon. Mercedes plans to introduce the EQG this year but at a much higher price point.

Land Rover Defender electric vehicle (PHEV)
A plug-in hybrid electric variant of the Land Rover Defender is already available at dealers, addressing buyers who aren’t yet ready to go all-electric. Image Source: JLR

Variants & Release Date

JLR’s new ‘Reimagine’ strategy puts an unprecedented impetus on electrification across the two brands. With the company planning to offer the entire model line-up in electric by 2030, the Land Rover Defender electric was inevitable. The right question to ask, is when would it release?

Land Rover EV electric SUV future models
Land Rover has planned half a dozen electric vehicle launches by early 2026, as shown in this official teaser from 2021. Image Source: JLR

By around early 2026, the Land Rover range will see the addition of “six pure electric variants,” JLR said while explaining the Reimagine strategy in February 2021. Perhaps the final launch in the sequence could be the Defender.

When the time comes, we can expect Land Rover to electrify all three variants of the Defender – i.e., the 90, 110, and 130. While Land Rover has remained tight-lipped when it comes to any concrete details of the Defender Electric, the first batch of vehicles could start reaching their customers in 2026, at least according to the Auto Express article cited in the story.

Manufacturing

On October 26, 2023, Jaguar Land Rover confirmed that its plant in Nitra, Slovakia, which produces the current Defender and Discovery, will also manufacture electric vehicles. While the company didn’t offer details on the electric models to be produced at this facility, we assume that the all-electric variants of the Defender will be added to its production lines.

Wolfspeed’s next-gen Silicon Carbide semiconductor technology

As per a JLR press release dated October 31, 2022, the British automaker’s partnership with the American electronics company Wolfspeed (formerly Cree Inc.) will result in next-gen Silicon Carbide (SiC) semiconductors in future Land Rover Electric models, which should include the Defender EV as well.

From 2024, Land Rover will begin equipping some of its pure-electric SUVs with inverters that feature advanced SiC technology. These new semiconductors are expected to deliver higher powertrain efficiency & longer range and will be manufactured at Wolfspeed’s Mohawk Valley facility located in Marcy, New York.

Smaller Defender EV also in the plan

In addition to the aforementioned large model based on the MLA Flex platform, there will be a compact Defender based on the upcoming EMA platform. Unlike MLA Flex, EMA is a dedicated future EV platform, so the model based on it, expected to be called the Land Rover Defender Sport, should be technically more advanced and offer a higher efficiency.

EMA, an all-electrified architecture for mid-sized Land Rovers, Range Rover, Defender, and Discovery brands will come off that platform. That’s available from 2025. Just under two years’ time, our first EMA products – all electric, will be in the marketplace.

Adrian Mardell, CEO, JLR (Annual Investor Day on June 12, 2023)

The Defender Sport will likely have double the system voltage of the bigger Defender EV – ~800 volts. It should support charging at much higher power, of around 350 kW, so fast charging to 80% level may take much lesser time, just around 20 minutes. We expect batteries with higher energy density and more torque-dense motors as well. 2027 could be the year the Defender Sport goes on sale, for those who prefer a smaller size or have a more modest budget compared to the larger Defender model.

Featured Image: TopElectricSUV’s rendering of the Defender EV.