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Meet the Men Responsible for the New Land Rover Defender's Looks

They're also the reason it's hard to confuse a Land Rover for anything else.

Let there be no mistake about it, 4x4 SUVs are not my kind of cars, however well designed they may be. But the Jaguar Land Rover designers and engineers are definitely my kind of people. They're competent and capable, and they care about what they do, do it well, and are good company, to boot.

Automobile proclaims "No Boring Cars," and I say manufacturers only achieve that by making sure they have no boring people. In connection with the launch of the new Defender, we talked with Andy Wheel, chief designer of exteriors (below left); Gerry McGovern, Land Rover's chief design officer (below center); and Nick Rogers, executive director of product engineering.

Notice the names on their business cards: Andy, Gerry, and Nick, not Andrew, Gerard, and Nicholas. I've been around most parts of the industry over a long career and know all too well that many—maybe most—of those employed in the process are basically time servers and aren't that interested in cars, not in their beauty nor in the intricacies of their construction. They're there for the paycheck, and when that's gone, so are they. I've even known an important chief designer who reached retirement and became a furniture salesman. No Pebble Beach visits for him, obviously.

A visit to the studios in the British Midlands confirmed that these fellows are dyed-in-the-wool car guys who enjoy their work and enjoy talking about it. Wheel and I mused over his name and that of last month's interviewee, Russell Carr, wondering if names are predestination, though no one else in Wheel's extended family is a car person. He explained the function of the simulated deck plate on the new Defender's hood, making sense out of what one might ordinarily think of as cheap fakery. (It is not.)

Rogers was amusing in his self-description as "incredibly young-looking" for someone who's been with Land Rover for 35 years. He does look a bit young, but his competence is not in question, especially in light of what has been done with both performance and quality under his guidance. He pointed out that Jaguar and Land Rover now have as much or more experience with aluminum structures as any mainstream or midsize manufacturer. He didn't delve into why light alloy Land Rovers are so heavy, but the answer is obvious: There's an enormous amount of content never present in the originals.

McGovern says he is much concerned with simplification in Land Rovers, in terms of surfaces, details, and décor. When I suggested the bold lettering across the nose of today's models is perhaps a bit over the top, he concurred and pointed out that apart from those letters, badging is discreet and adequate for identity, given the clear family links. Indeed, it's virtually impossible to confuse a Land Rover for any other SUV. That's a positive element for the company and for its customers, who recognize something special about the presentation and presence of Land Rovers, including this newest exemplar of the 72-year-old foundational concept.

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