Classic Customizers To Produce Tesla-Powered Defender

Debora Carley

Rendering of an electric version of the Land Rover Defender being built by classic vehicle … [+] customizer ECD Automotive Design based in Kissimmee, Fla. Will Cheaney You might call it a Tesla TSLA in Land Rover’s clothing. A Florida-based company that specializes in customizing classic Land Rovers, and in […]

You might call it a Tesla
in Land Rover’s clothing. A Florida-based company that specializes in customizing classic Land Rovers, and in particular, Defenders, is getting set to build the first electric Defender in the U.S. It will be powered by a Tesla drivetrain.

ECD Automotive Design, based in Kissimmee, Fla. is partnering with Electric Classic Cars (ECC)—a UK company with expertise in electric conversions of classic vehicles, to build the EVs. The first one is set to roll off ECD’s production line later this year. 

It’s just another chapter in the short history of ECD, founded in 2013 by a trio of British auto enthusiasts who met at a party in their homeland, had a subsequent conversation over a case of beer, according to co-founder Scott Wallace and realized they also had a mutual affection for old Defenders. 

“We asked, how could you take a British farm and agricultural vehicle and create an American demand for it?” said Wallace in a phone interview. 

They found the answer by moving to the U.S. and creating ECD, starting small with one mechanic and a workspace around 1,500 square feet and have watched their classic vehicle customization building business boom to expected revenues this year of “close to $12 million,” with a team of 60 and 45,000-square foot facility near Orlando, according to Wallace. 

“We take a base vehicle that’s 25 years or older and we take it all the way down to the frame and turn it into a unique vehicle,” said Wallace. 

Now ECD has decided to give creating an electric version of a Defender a go—much more than simply a cosmetic update, but rather a way for the company to make a play in its very specialized space in the growing EV market, according to co-founder Elliot Humble. 

“It’s just one thing we wanted to get ahead of the game on and be one of the first to have a good electric drive train solution on one of these classic Land Rovers,” said Humble. 

He explained they’d been watching ECC’s work on electric conversions for some time, respected their work and knew they had some success with the Tesla drivetrain, so a partnership with them would make sense. The ECD team also appreciated the Tesla drivetrain’s power and torque. 

“They build a custom install kit for us,” he said. “From these guys they actually package, attach the drivetrain with batteries …into a kit we can install into the Defenders and Range Rover Classics and series trucks without a great deal of headache.”

Customers will have a couple of power choices, ranging from 450 brake horsepower (bhp), or about 456 horsepower that gets you from zero to 60 miles per hour in five seconds, to 600 bhp, or roughly 608 horsepower. That one rockets the Defender EV from zero to 60 mph in “the three second range.” Expected range is about 220 miles on a charge. 

The vehicle will also feature downhill assist and traction control, an anti-lock braking system, regenerative braking and an upgraded driveline to cope with the power. Add to that an electric parking brake system as an alternative to the mechanical handbrake. The direct drive means no shifter, meaning customers simply push the button to drive.

A customized electric Defender is most certainly not an economy vehicle. Built to exact, personalized specifications for each customer, pricing starts at around $180,000 for what Scott Wallace calls “a very kind of plastic factory spec look and feel,” to around $290,000. 

“When you get to the top end it’s a more personalized nature with custom wheels, different metals, touch points throughout the vehicle, Brembo brakes,” said Wallace, but he’s quick to point out, “It’s not like the lowest priced vehicle is barebones.” 

No, indeed. Tom Humble, Elliot’s brother and the third member of the ECD triumvirate, explains the very individualized and complex process for creating each customized vehicle. It all starts with what he terms a “high level summary of the vehicle—what they’re looking for.” The design process alone takes six to eight months, which includes mockups, three-dimensional renderings and models and finally production, which the customer can watch remotely over live cameras but also receives bi-weekly progress reports.

“We’re building one of one here, that’s the foundation of the business,” he said.

As for the electric version of the Defender, Elliot Humble doesn’t look at it as a core product for ECD, expecting it to represent 15% of its annual sales of 60 vehicles, explaining “it’s a tool in our armory. We can tell a client, now you have another choice.”

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