The first of the latest – and possibly last – variant of the evergreen Defender rolled off the production lines at Land Rover's Solihull plant yesterday .
But the company refused to divulge what plans, if any, it has for replacing the near 60-year-old vehicle. The descendent of the first Land Rover which began life in 1948, Defender has been revamped to ensure that it complies with emissions and safety legislation up to at least 2010.
Land Rover's decision to keep its iconic vehicle in production is based on continuing customer demand. It sells about 25,000 Defenders a year and has just booked an order for 900 from Italian energy distributor Ente Nazionale Electtricita.
Keeping production lines going at Lode Lane puts a floor under more than 750 manufacturing jobs.
However, the Ford-owned company yesterday refused to say if it was planning a long-term replacement for its bread-and-butter model, which is built at Solihull alongside Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Discovery 3.
The fifth Land Rover model, Freelander 2, is made at Halewood on Merseyside where the Jaguar X-Type is also produced.
"We are concentrating on launching this new Defender, which will take us to at least 2010," a spokeswoman said.
"We cannot be rushed into commenting on any future models."
Automotive industry insiders believe that Land Rover is almost certainly planning a replacement for the vehicle that gave birth to the 4x4 market and which has been in demand from armies, utilities and any organisation needing off-road vehicles since its launch.
"The statements coming out of Land Rover suggest they are not thinking of abandoning what is after all their core market," one said yesterday. "The only question really, is will they build it at Lode Lane or at Halewood?"
The Defender name was introduced in 1990 but the model is a direct descendant of the original Land Rover. Paul Cope, manufacturing director at Lode Lane, said the introduction of the upgraded Defender was "recognition that consumer demand remains very strong for this iconic model".
He added: "The 07 Model Year with its new design enhancements, will ensure that Defender remains a key contributor to the success of the Solihull manufacturing site."