Britain’s richest man will build a rival to Land Rover’s Defender SUV in the UK, creating hundreds of jobs at a time when the country's auto industry is in retreat amid falling sales and uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group will assemble the Grenadier in Bridgend, Wales, near an engine plant earmarked for closure by Ford Motor, while building the frame and body in Portugal, the company said Wednesday. The vehicle will go on sale in 2021.
Ratcliffe, an outspoken proponent of Brexit with a $19 billion fortune, is committing to the plan barely a week after Jaguar Land Rover unveiled a revamped version of the 70-year-old Defender.
"By the time we get to manufacture, whatever has happened will have happened and the non-tariff barriers will have been overcome or we will have worked our way round them," Corporate Affairs Director Tom Crotty said.
Ineos, which is a petrochemicals company, is betting that the back-to-basics Grenadier will appeal to the iconic Defender's original core buyers, who view the sleeker new Defender unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show this month as unpractical and pricey.
“We don’t see the new Defender as being in the same space,” Mark Tennant, commercial director at Ineos Automotive, said in an interview. “What we are doing is utilitarian.”
The Bridgend factory will aim to take on skilled workers from the Ford site, which employs about 1,700 people and is set to shut by September 2020. Ineos is investing 600 million pounds ($750 million) in the project, and expects to create as many as 500 jobs in Bridgend.
Ratcliffe devised the new car after failing in a bid to bring back the original Defender when stricter emissions rules prompted JLR to end production in 2016. Ineos Automotive said in March it had selected BMW to supply gasoline and diesel engines to the vehicle.
Ineos Automotive CEO Dirk Heilmann said the car is also likely to be offered with alternative propulsion at some point, though a conventional battery-electric setup wouldn’t be very practical in some locations where the vehicle might be used, making fuel cells and hydrogen more attractive.
The Grenadier is named after the public house in London where Ratcliffe has said the idea for a new go-anywhere off-roader was hashed out. The starting price is expected to be 25,000 pounds, although Tennant would only say that it would be “affordable.”
Two-thirds of sales are likely to be in Europe and the U.S., with the rest in Asia, Africa and the rest of the world.
JLR's starting price on the new Defender, which will be produced in Slovakia, is 40,000 pounds. While the latest Defender retains many traditional design elements and claims industry-leading off-road capabilities, it comes with modern twists such as a plug-in electric option, retractable sun roof and an infotainment system.
That may mean it appeals more to drivers who occasionally go off-road rather than a clientele spanning farmers, gamekeepers, explorers, game wardens and aid workers. Ineos believes that it can target this niche.
JLR, now owned by India’s Tata Motors, grappled for a couple of years with whether to build a new Defender and was persuaded partly by the global following for a car of which more than 2 million have been built, with around 70 percent thought to survive today.
Ratcliffe, 66, a former Exxon Mobil executive, built Ineos by acquiring unwanted petrochemical assets from major oil companies.
The group has also dipped its toes in fashion with the acquisition of motorcycle-wear label Belstaff, soccer through the purchase of French team Nice and Switzerland’s Lausanne, and cycling via the purchase of Tour de France-winning Team Sky, now Team Ineos.