One of Britain’s richest men has built his own off-roader, and it pays tribute to an old farm warrior, writes JULENA DRUMI
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s wealthiest man, is used to being the target of criticism. As the head of chemicals group Ineos he’s faced the fossil fuels and anti-plastics lobbies. As a proponent of fracking he’s been at the end of political , environmental and local campaigns.
Britain’s fifth wealthiest man is hoping his latest project will win him a few friends as well as a new stream of revenue. First reactions to his new off-road vehicle, the Ineos Grenadier, suggest he’s made a good start.
Sir Jim made no secret of his love of the old Land Rover Defender and when Jaguar Land Rover announced four years ago that it was ceasing production after 67 years he tried to buy the designs in order to build a replacement. When the company refused he came up with the idea of designing his own vehicle.
Ineos Automotive was born two years ago and Sir Jim enlisted his friend and favourite superyacht designer, Toby Ecuyer to lead the Grenadier design team. He also appointed former chemical engineer Dirk Heilmann as Ineos Automotive CEO, charged with overseeing a group of engineers based mainly in Graz, Austria. The vehicle will be assembled at a new factory in Bridgend, south Wales.
The wraps have now come off the Grenadier, named after Ratcliffe’s favourite pub in London’s Belgravia, ahead of it going on sale in 18 months time.
Described by car enthusiasts as a modernised – and more comfortable version – of the 1948 original, it is expected to be priced at about £40,000 for the basic model, a five-door station wagon which will be followed by a four-door pick-up truck. Sources say it will be profitable at an annual output of about 25,000.
‘We feel strongly that the timing is right. I don’t really want to compare this with that, but they didn’t sell [the Defender] in the US. It was an underinvested asset and they missed the boat’
The design team looked at a wide range of rivals, such as Jeep and Ford Bronco, as well as tractors and military vehicles to benchmark their ideas.
One writer at Autocar said the result is a “simple, well-proportioned and familiar-looking off-roader”.
The Grenadier is expected to be heavier than the old Defender 110, which is narrower but slightly longer. The body is a mixture of aluminium, high-strength steel and composites. One innovation is a split rear hinged door –with a smaller one handy for dropping off shopping.
Critics have questioned the market for the Grenadier given that Land Rover killed off the original Defender partly because the market for ultra-rugged, farm-friendly utility vehicles had dried up. Even Land Rover’s distribution network, brand recognition and heritage was not capable of generating enough sales.
Sir Jim said only that The Grenadier project started “by identifying a gap in the market, abandoned by a number of manufacturers, for a utilitarian off-road vehicle”.
Mr Heilmann admits it is a gamble but says Land Rover made errors, failing to sell the Defender in the US, one of Ineos’s key markets.
“We’re designing it as a global car, with a target of 20,000 to 30,000 units a year. We feel strongly that the timing is right. I don’t really want to compare this with that, but they didn’t sell [the Defender] in the US. It was an underinvested asset and they missed the boat,” he says.
“We’re passionate about this product. We know it’s high risk, we know it’s a lot of money, but we’re not afraid of risk. We thrive on a challenge so let’s see if we’re successful or not.”
Apart from North America, target markets will include Europe, Australia, Africa and South-East Asia. Maybe we’ll also be seeing a few on the school runs in Hyndland and Morningside.