Spain’s Land Rover Clone Takes On the Real Thing
One of the odder things about the motor industry is the licensing agreements which allow models to be assembled far from their home country, and sometimes to develop a whole parallel life of their own.
A good example of this springs to mind in Spain, where the good old British Land Rover has mutated into a direct rival which is now taking on the real thing head-on.
The original product is the Land Rover Defender, a no-nonsense 4X4 with roots going back to 1948, which is still made today and is a true British icon. Improved and refined over the years, the Defender has served generations of farmers and soldiers and quite a few town-dwellers too.
Its remarkably similar-looking rival is the Santana PS10, called Anibal in Spain after the fact that its factory is close to the birthplace of Hannibal, the man who crossed the Alps with a team of fighting elephants in Roman times.
Dig deeper and this is no case of commercial piracy. Santana started up in 1958, when General Franco’s Spain was economically undeveloped and a closed market for vehicles. The production agreement allowed Land Rover access to Spain and other world markets, notably in Latin America.
Over the years Santana’s products differed significantly from their British counterparts, while retaining the same basic mechanical heritage. Over 300,000 had been built by the mid-1980s, when the partnership began to unravel.
In 1983 Land Rover introduced the substantially reworked 90 and 110 models, later renamed Defender. These more refined vehicles were never made by Santana, which persevered with the older body complete with leaf sprung Land Rover suspension. The Spaniards were also at the time forging a new and lucrative agreement with Japan’s Suzuki, which would eventually see small 4X4s like the Samurai, Vitara and Jimny made in Spain with free access to the expanding European market.
By 1994 the last Land Rover-based Santana, the 2500, disappeared into history and for the next few years the company made only Suzukis. Nostalgia for the older product, however, plus a change in the relationship with new master Suzuki, meant the Land Rover era was not to die altogether.
In 2002, no doubt to the dismay of Land Rover in England, Santana premiered the PS10, using a lightly revised version of the old square-cut design dating back many years. This featured a modern 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine and was backed by ambitious plans for wider export to many of Land Rover’s core markets, including Great Britain itself, where it has been sold since 2004.
With an unknown name and little marketing muscle, Santana hasn’t exactly set the market alight, but has been big on value, with typical savings of £6000 ($12,000) against its British rival. While the ruggedly handsome Defender has become quite sophisticated – helped by a new interior and engine for 2007 – the ugly duckling Santana has traded on sheer off-road ability as a low-priced workhorse which can go anywhere.
Now a new chapter in the story seems set to open with a badge-engineered Santana being recently shown under the name Iveco Massif. Despite a new front end the Massif is possibly even uglier than its Santana twin.
Unlike Santana, however, Italian-based commercial vehicle manufacturer Iveco is a big player in Europe, and already supplies the Spanish vehicle’s powerplant, recently uprated to 3 litres. The company is also talking of selling the Massif with a Fiat badge in South America.
Italian-badged 4X4s have not had a happy history up to now, with companies like Lamborghini, Bertone and Rayton-Fissore all having a go and getting their fingers badly burnt in the process. Fiat abandoned its own rustic Land Rover rival, the Campagnola, years ago, and Italy itself is now one of the biggest export market for the Defender, where thousands are in service with the police, army and public utilities.
With owner Ford putting Land Rover up for sale to the highest bidder, the future is still anybody’s guess, but it looks like this iconic design might – in several forms – still be around for a few more years to come.
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