Ineos Forwards to the Past with Off-roader

  • The chemicals billionaire, who has been conducting a personal crusade to bring manufacturing back to the home of the industrial revolution, has spotted an opportunity. The chemicals billionaire, who has been conducting a personal crusade to bring manufacturing back to the home of the industrial revolution, has spotted an opportunity.

Few in the chemical industry would have predicted that Swiss-British petrochemicals group Ineos would diversify into car production, though its chairman, Jim Ratcliffe, is often good for a surprise. The chemicals billionaire, who has been conducting a personal crusade to bring manufacturing back to the home of the industrial revolution, has spotted an opportunity. And this is something the chemicals billionaire is rather good at, considering his past track record.

As a starting point for the intended automotive revival, Ratcliffe’s eyes are focused on the Jaguar Land Rover Defender, of which he is a long-time admirer. His aim is to build a new 4x4 off-road vehicle to fill the gap left by the demise last year of the Land Rover Defender.

Much used and favored by both farmers and royalty – Queen Elizabeth is reportedly a big fan – the last of these iconic utility vehicles rolled off the assembly line in Solihull, near Birmingham, England, on Jan. 29, 2016 after 68 years of production. More than two million Defenders were produced and exported around the world, but the carmaker saw no choice but to end production, as the vehicle would not be able to meet Europe’s stricter car emissions standards due in 2020.

Jaguar Land Rover is developing a replacement model for its classic, but Ratcliffe has other ideas. Without revealing details, Ineos said it has completed a six-month feasibility study and expects to spend “many hundreds of millions” on an “uncompromising” off-roader. Its leader is determined that the new vehicle will offer a real alternative to the current crop of standardized “jelly-mould” SUVs. Though the new off-roader might share the spirit of previous models, “our new car will be a major improvement on previous models,” he insisted.

A nominal supporter of Brexit, Ratcliffe may choose to build the plant in the north of the UK if the project goes ahead. Although Ineos has said it would weigh other European options, building it anywhere but in Britain might defeat the purpose of boosting the country’s sagging industrial output.

Besides, there would be import duties to consider.

True to its entrepreneurial spirit, Ineos also intends to exploit synergies with its existing chemicals business – at least from a human resources standpoint. The Defender project will be headed by Dirk Heilmann, formerly head of Engineering and Technology at Ineos. Now CEO of the newly minted Ineos Automotive, Heilmann has already started recruiting a team of experts.

It is not clear if there would be any other overlaps with the group’s existing businesses. As the Defender is supposed to be a heavy vehicle, adding plastics from the Ineos portfolio to save weight would not seem an option, though not having an option is something its peripatetic chief surely would not entertain.

As target customers for the new off-roader, the group sees agriculture and forestry workers, explorers and adventurers around the world as well as traditional Defender fans who want to enjoy an “authentic 4x4 driving experience.” No doubt, Ratcliffe will be the first to drive it, with the Queen perhaps taking the wheel next. 

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