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'Cult following' key to Defender success in Japan

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Land Rover's Defender is to go on sale in Japan, 53 years after its predecessor's British market debut. The launch will be boosted by the arrival in Japan of the Lara Croft 'Tomb Raider' film which features the British 4x4 institution.

The Japanese market is dominated by the latest generation of Japanese Land Rover clones, like Toyota's Land Cruiser and Nissan's Patrol. But Land Rover's oldest model has never been able to compete on price with the Defender.

In recent years the Ford-owned company's classic has developed a cult following and second-hand grey import models have been selling for around £30,000.

Land Rover believes it can sell a new Defender for less, but it has taken time to get it homologated for the Japanese market. BMW, which used to own Land Rover, was unwilling to invest in approval for the ancient model.

Available only with a five-cylinder diesel engine and manual transmission, modifications have been made to meet Japanese emission standards.

Christopher Ellis, a Land Rover Japan executive, said the Defender would be launched in the spring, only as a long wheelbase TD5.

He added: "We plan to sell around 400 vehicles a year initially in Japan. These are small numbers but the halo effect should be significant."

Land Rover launched Freelander in Japan in February helping to sell 1,300 vehicles this year, overtaking last year's total of 1,098 units.

Mr Ellis added: " We are targeting sales of around 3,500 a year eventually, with a strengthened dealer network, built from the remnants of Rover's structure and a full model range of Freelander, Dicovery, Range Rover and Defender." (November 8, 2001)

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