LA Auto Show: Surveying the 2020 Land Rover Defender’s Silhouette

Speaking with Gerry McGovern about the new iteration of the off-road classic

At the LA Auto Show (on now through 1 December) we spoke with Land Rover‘s Dr Gerry McGovern about the brand’s 2020 Defender, a vehicle whose design has been somewhat polarizing. McGovern and his team see the new vehicle as a triumph: beginning with the pronounced lip that’s visible just below the front and rear windows of both doors, and wraps entirely around the windscreen as well. “It comes all the way around on purpose, because it emphasizes the shoulder that falls away just below it,” he tells us. “This is like a body. It looks better when it’s chiseled rather than amorphous.”

McGovern stresses that if you let your eye fall from the collar to the shoulder and then below that, “There aren’t lines and lines. All the lines are lines of consequence and they all relate to each other. You go out on the show floor [in LA] and you don’t know where to look and you’re just being bombarded with cars with 150 lines.” Restraint, then, is what McGovern was seeking with the new Defender, but without making something retro.

The team chased a product, rather than car linguistics for the 2020 Defender. McGovern explains this as more like the way tools are designed; when simply looking at them, their intended use is evident. “Whether people will really use the Defender for what it’s capable of is up to them, but the body shape is all about sight lines and capability,” he says, noting how the square body and short overhangs enable extreme off-roading.

Speaking of squares that aren’t quite square, McGovern points to the sharp wheel arches of the car. “We’re paying homage in little cues, but look at the squared-off wheel arches on 3-series Defender and they’re literally squares. It’s far more considered,” he says. He says what they’re doing with the new Defender’s arches are “more considered,” noting the curvature over the tires. Next he points to the squared tail- and brake-lights, “Simple geometric forms have been part of a design or an art language forever.” Speaking specifically about the tail-lights, he tells us, “Now you’re using an architectural language. There are some very nice buildings in Paris from the 1960s with windows with just that sort of geometric form. I just think that’s perfect for a vehicle.”

Shapes and line aside, the Defender will be offered in some very carefully selected colors, with an almost-matte “satin” finish for the gold, silver and green iterations. These become softer thanks to a unique, protective polyurethane wrap developed specifically for the Defender and unlike traditional vehicle wraps, won’t shrink or crack at temperatures of -40 or 100+ degrees. McGovern’s favorite is the lighter, “pangea” green. He tells us, “It’s great because it’s very sophisticated. It’s not just a flat green like we used to do. It’s modern and intricate. So we’re doing green, but we’re doing it the right way.” He is an advocate for wrapping own cars because he’s a fan of less reflective finishes that accentuate the underlying form. “If you have refinement in the surfaces, if you strongly define the character, you can see the subtlety and sophistication better.”

Images by Michael Frank