LONDON -- Petrochemicals giant Ineos is considering buying Daimler's Smart factory in France to build the Grenadier SUV, its rival to the Land Rover Defender.
Ineos last week released pictures of the Grenadier, a rugged, off-roader whose shape resembles the original, iconic Defender.
The company had said last autumn it would produce 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.
Ineos said on Tuesday that it has entered detailed discussions on the acquisition of Daimler's Hambach site in Moselle, France.
Daimler's announcement on Friday that it wants to sell the plant to cut costs means the planned Welsh and Portuguese operations could be combined at the Smart plant, Ineos said in a statement.
"As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic some new options such as this one have opened up that were simply not available to us previously," Ineos Automotive boss Dirk Heilmann said in the statement.
The company has halted construction work in Wales and Portugal.
The Smart factory opened in 1997 to build the two-seat Smart ForTwo but Daimler recently invested in the facility to build an electric SUV for Mercedes-Benz, meaning it can accommodate larger vehicles.
Using it would allow Ineos to keep to its timetable of starting Grenadier production late 2021 with the vehicle on sale early 2022, Ineos Automotive commercial director Mark Tennant told Automotive News Europe.
"One of the commercial drivers is to start production on time," he said. "This gives us a head start in terms of using existing facilities and a high-quality workforce as opposed to try to get new plants out of the ground where we've had some months of delay due to COVID-19."
Ineos did not rule out taking over Nissan's plant in Barcelona, Spain, which has the advantage of being set up for assembly of ladder-frame off-road vehicles, including the Nissan Navara pickup.
Nissan said in May that it intends to close its Barcelona main plant starting in December as it shrinks its global production footprint to save money.
"We saw Nissan's announcement but our prime focus on Hambach," Tennant said. "We are looking at a few options."
News that Ineos's owners, UK billionaire industrialist Jim Ratcliff, a prominent supporter of Britain's exit from the European Union, has reversed his decision to build the Grenadier in Wales will be poorly received in the UK and especially in Bridgend, where Ford is about to close an engine plant.
Ineos defended its decision.
"We are asking people to understand commercial viability has to take priority and that we are making the right decisions from that perspective," Tennant said. "There are lot of headwinds in the industry at the moment."
The Grenadier will be powered by a range of six-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines supplied by BMW.
Ineos has not given a price for the vehicle, but UK media have reported it will start at around 40,000 pounds ($50,000), similar to the starting price of the new Land Rover Defender.
Ineos's Ratcliffe originally approached Land Rover to buy the tooling for the Defender after the model was discontinued in 2016 after 67 years in production but was refused.