A prominent automotive trend for 2019 will be nostalgia from the rad 1990s and beyond. Toyota brought back the Supra after a 20-year hiatus at NAIAS. Ford did not bring a Bronco down from the rafters. But, that revival is en route. So is another much-anticipated launch, the new 2020 Land Rover Defender, poised to make a return to the U.S. One presumes it will be with airbags this time.
We’ve seen nostalgia crazes before. VW launched the new Beetle in the late 1990s. BMW made Mini it into its own brand in the 2000s. But, the current comebacks are different. These cars don’t stem from marketing blitzes. They want to capitalize on organic, already rampant enthusiasm on the Internet.
The Supra, Bronco and Defender are being revived because, besides being cool, classic versions are going for stupid six-figure prices. Clean, low mileage Supras have crossed the $100,000 barrier in online auctions. East Coast Defender has been importing Land Rover shells and converting them into bespoke six-figure luxury cruisers. Gateway Bronco has signed a licensing agreement with Ford to manufacture first-generation Broncos and sell them for six figures.
Automakers’ natural reactions to that level of interest is to profit from it. It’s like how Jeep and others are co-opting a multi-billion-dollar aftermarket parts industry by customizing at the dealer level, for a healthy premium. What’s uncertain is whether that enthusiasm will translate to new, modern vehicles.
The Supra has the easier task. The sport coupe transcends eras. A 3.0-liter V6 remains socially acceptable. BMW’s involvement with the engine and tuning for it only intrigues car guys more. It should be a tremendous drive. Its performance for price package will appeal regardless of nostalgia. The one misstep may have been foregoing a manual in favor of raw performance. It’s the stick Supras that are selling for bonkers prices.
Ford and Land Rover must climb a tougher hill. The small, body-on-frame off-roader no longer exists as a segment. It’s contrary to everything going on in the car market. Land Rover had to kill the original Defender because it would not meet modern emissions standards. The concept needs to be rethought.
New Defenders and Broncos need to capture the essence of the originals, beyond aesthetics, while sharing platforms and making compromises (four doors) to appeal to families. The Jeep Wrangler, in a purer form, will still be there as formidable competition for both of them. Not to mention the updated classic versions will still be there for buyers who can afford them.
Faithfulness is only part of the equation. Those cars must also advance the concept. Looking enough like the original Mini got the Cooper buzz. Being a better version of the original pint-sized driver’s car vision is what has kept it around for two decades (and unfortunately spawned the Countryman).
Everyone will hope these reimagined cars are like the Battlestar Galactica remake. But, Toyota, Ford, Land Rover and others could, quite easily, be Magnum P.I. without Tom Selleck.