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

It is no news that every Land Rover model will adopt one or more zero-emission powertrains later this decade. And in fact, work on the Land Rover Defender electric project is in the early stages.

JLR’s most challenging projects this decade as part of its transition to zero-emission vehicles will be converting its large SUVs such as the Land Rover Defender, Discovery, Range Rover, and Range Rover Sport into electric vehicles. Turning the Defender, which is the most off-road focused model, into an EV in the early years would be the trickiest, considering how customers use the SUV.

Thierry Bollore, CEO, Jaguar Land Rover, admits that weight is a challenge with EVs right now. “They are already heavier than traditional car(s),” Bollore said, adding that it’s “especially because of batteries.” But the new JLR CEO is 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. Preparations for that time have begun with the development of the Defender EV.

Bollore was giving an insight into the future of Jaguar Land Rover 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, CEO, Jaguar Land Rover

JLR is testing the early prototypes of the Defender electric, likely in utmost secrecy, in Gaydon, UK. We doubt test mules will appear on public roads even in 2022. The company will start with testing the Defender hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle concept before the end of 2021.

Land Rover built prototypes of the Defender EV in 2013

Land Rover’s Advanced Engineering Team assembled 7 working prototypes of a zero-emission all-electric Defender in 2012 and presented them during the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. While it has no connection with the new Defender, the early project offers perspective on how far electric vehicles have come since then.

Back then, the team found it sufficient to use a 70 kW motor with a torque of 330 Nm and a 300V 27 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Despite weighing 410 kg, the air-cooled battery could only offer 80 km of travel range on a full charge. It took four hours with a 7 kW fast charger and 10 hours with a 3 kW charger to fully charge it.

Land Rover retained all the off-road capabilities of the Defender, with the electric version featuring a four-wheel-drive system, differential lock, 13 percent gradient, and 800 mm wading depth. Engineers also fitted a modified Terrain Response System to the prototypes. Land Rover put it in service at the Eden Project, a tourist attraction in Cornwall, UK, where it towed the four-carriage 12-tonne road train holding up to 60 passengers on a 6 percent incline, proving it wasn’t just a showpiece.

Former Land Rover chief engineer on the Land Rover Defender Electric

In March 2021, CoventryLive asked Dr. Charles Tennant, a former Land Rover chief engineer who sat on the board of Tata Technologies, about the Land Rover Defender electric. In response, Tennant said:

Whilst it is obvious that Land Rover will produce a BEV Defender (and maybe later a hydrogen FCEV), I would imagine it will figure much later in the plan (post 2025), especially with annual investment capped at £2.5 billion and all those Jaguars to design and tool up first.

Charles Tennant, former Land Rover chief engineer, speaking to Coventry Live.
Land Rover Defender electric vehicle (PHEV)
A plug-in hybrid electric variant of the Land Rover Defender is already available in showrooms. Image: Jaguar Land Rover

In February 2021, Autocar speculated that five of the six pure electric variants JLR has confirmed will be of existing models. The instant torque electric powertrain technology offers can make the Land Rover Defender a more capable off-roader. However, the extra weight of the batteries could prove to be a roadblock in the conversion and limit its appeal.

The Land Rover Defender electric is a bigger challenge than any other Land Rover EV and possibly a very tough sell. Being a Defender, customers are right to expect the capability of going to faraway, remote locations where charging infrastructure is out of the question.

In the current scenario, JLR would need to either shove in a huge battery pack or make the vehicle exceptionally energy-efficient, both of which are unrealistic considering the size and positioning of the vehicle. However, by the second half of the decade, battery technology, with solid-state, should have improved to a point where the weight and cost issues are addressed to make a Land Rover Defender EV on a budget that can do an off-roading trip from start to finish comfortably without any range anxiety. Like Jeep, Land Rover would need partnerships to install charging stations at remote locations that customers frequent during excursions.

Defender electric release date

Jaguar Land Rover’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 is 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. Image: Jaguar Land Rover

In the next five years, i.e., by 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.

We conceive that the Defender EV would compete, on capability, with the Jeep Recon and the Ford Bronco EV.

Second Defender EV also possible

It is no news that JLR is considering turning Defender from a single model into the third family under the Land Rover brand. According to a report from Autocar, the Defender family could include a larger Defender model sharing the MLA platform with the next-gen Range Rover and next-gen Range Rover Sport. Slotting above the D7x Defender, which is getting an eight-seat ‘130’ version in 2022, the larger Defender would be more of a luxury model than a utility vehicle.

The MLA platform, which will reportedly underpin even the next-gen Range Rover Velar and next-gen Discovery (Discovery 6), is ready for 100% electrification. The MLA Defender model, likely to cost from around GBP 59,000 – far lower than the Mercedes G-Class’ GBP 101,565 base price – is unlikely to arrive before late 2024 or early 2025. Its pure electric variant could rival the Mercedes EQG. JLR may release the all-electric variant of the D7x Defender before the MLA Defender.

Featured Image Source: Jaguar Land Rover