STUTTGART -- Petrochemicals giant Ineos has submitted a binding purchase offer for Daimler's Smart factory in France to build the Grenadier SUV, its rival to the Land Rover Defender.
Negotiations for the sale were "positive and well advanced," a Daimler spokesman told Automobilwoche, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe.
Ineos plans to manufacture 25,000 Grenadiers annually at the plant in Hambach, northern France.
Ineos sees itself on the home stretch in the purchase process.
"Although the contract has not yet been concluded, we are confident that agreement will be reached on the terms and conditions and that the Grenadier's new home will be France," an Ineos spokesman told Automobilwoche.
Ineos did not comment on the amount of the purchase offer.
Ineos originally planned to build the Grenadier at a new plant in Bridgend, Wales, with the car's body and ladder-frame chassis built in a separate plant in Portugal. The company scrapped those plans after Daimler said it was looking for a buyer for the Smart factory as it reduces production capacity following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Hambach is a great solution for Ineos, with a very experienced workforce and an excellent track record among Mercedes plants in terms of product production quality," the Ineos spokesman said.
Production of Smart models will move to China from France after Daimler last year said it will build next-generation Smart vehicles through a joint venture with Geely.
The Daimler spokesman said a decision on the Hambach factory sale will be made when talks with employee representatives have been concluded.
"An important goal is to secure the future of the site," the spokesman told Automobilwoche.
Daimler has direct responsibility for nearly 1,000 employees at Hambach and indirect responsibility for about 600 who work at suppliers, according to Daimler works council leader Michael Brecht. "The goal, of course, is to find a future for all 1,600 people," he said.
The Smart factory opened in 1997 to build the two-seat Smart ForTwo but Daimler recently invested in the facility to build the EQB electric crossover for Mercedes-Benz, meaning it can accommodate larger vehicles.
According to Automobilwoche sources, the EQB will now be built either in Rastatt, Germany or in Kecskemet, Hungary. The EQB is scheduled to debut this year.