Factory talks Bridgend INEOS "very advanced", minister claims

Ineos Projekt Grenadier

INEOS boss Jim Ratcliffe with Land Rover quarterback

INEOS is reportedly technically close to a deal to build an all-terrain vehicle in Wales, resulting in hundreds of jobs following Ford's closure

INEOS Automotive, a subsidiary of British chemical company Ineos, appears to be close to an agreement to build a new 4×4 in Bridgend, Wales, next to a soon-to-close Ford plant.

The company's boss, billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, has reportedly been interested in the place for some time. Now Welsh Economy Minister Ken Konkov told BBC Radio Wales that talks are "very advanced" between the Welsh government and the newly formed automaker.

INEOS plans to build a Land Rover Defender-inspired model dubbed Project Grenadier. She intends to reveal early sketches of the car later this year before production starts in 2021.

Reports indicate that instead of using Ford's existing manufacturing facilities, as previously thought, INEOS would build its own factory nearby. If things go on like this, the new facility could bring hundreds of new jobs to the area, set to be a bad influence on Ford's decision to close its engine plant next year.

INEOS's upcoming contender for the famous Defender is being developed in conjunction with German engineering company MBtech, which is part of the run to buy Mercedes-Benz.

The technical ties will be employed by MBtech dedicating 200 full-time engineers from its Stuttgart base. INEOS Automotive CEO Dirk Heilmann says this deal will allow "bring together German engineering and British design and entrepreneurship". MBtech will be tasked with "working through" the vehicle's exact specifications to ensure it is a "truly rugged, reliable and uncompromising 4x4".

MBtech was founded in 1995 as Mercedes-Benz Technologies, but the German automotive giant sold a 65% stake in the firm to Acca Technologies in 2012. MBtech continues to work on several projects for Mercedes as well as other automotive companies. As part of the deal with INEOS, he will play a leading role in the overall development of the Grenadier car, beyond all components.

INEOS turned over $43bn in 2017, making £3.8bn in profits. She plans to invest around £700 million in a chosen location for the Grenadiers.

The company has previously said that it is open to a range of possible solutions; she can share with another company, convert a used plant, or build a new one. “We would have initially said that our desire was to build it in the UK and that was the case,” INEOS director Tom Crotty said of the car last year. But the company has also received a number of offers from European sites.

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INEOS still wants to go into production in the UK, despite the uncertainty in the automotive industry, as there are fears about the possibility of the UK leaving the European Union without internet.

“We went into this decision with our eyes wide open,” Crotty said when asked about the quarter and month's impact. “It really doesn't matter. We think this is a project for the UK that will be very helpful after the UK leaves the EU because we would like to export 70-80% of the cars we would like to make."

INEOS is focused on selling about 25 units per year. The company had previously outlined its vision for the 000x4 to be sold worldwide, but primarily to the US, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. Prices are set to closely adhere to the original Defender, which was priced from £4.

The name of the Grenadier project links to the Grenadier Pub in the Knightsbridge area, which is next to the INEOS headquarters and where plans for the car were tentatively discussed, according to Crotty. The German spelling "project" is an allusion to Heilmann's nationality.

“We want the best quality engineering, under the skin of this car, hence the nod in this direction,” Crotty said. “We want to remind everyone that what we are trying to do is an uncompromising 4x4 with a high level of technology.”

Lots of powertrain designs and options haven't been decided yet, but Crotty told the car last year that it's likely to have a diesel option, while hybrid and electric technologies are being explored.

“We are looking at different powertrain options,” he said. “Hybrid technology may also be on the cards, especially since it will help with emissions control, but we'd like to keep it off-road value.

“Pure EV is also a possibility. We look at everything and nothing is closed. I would be very surprised if a diesel option was not part of that."

Crotty also confirmed that the SUV will have a traditional chassis rather than a load-bearing chassis and will be relatively low-tech, unlike Land Rover's upcoming Defender replacement, which will go on sale in 2019.

“It will be extremely high quality and very reliable,” Crotty added.

As for styling, Crotty said the SUV will have a "spirit protector" but it won't look like it. “It will not be a modern SUV,” he explained. “It will be much more like an old-style, very rugged SUV.”

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INEOS claims to be one of the largest manufacturers in the world, but this will be the first time it has released a car.

Crotty accepted that the project was a risk, but claimed that he had the full backing of the company and the team was determined to make the car a profitable success.

“People probably think we're crazy because we're not in the auto industry,” he said. “There is risk in everything you do, but we can manage that risk. We are manufacturers, we know what we are doing and we know that we need high quality from people in the industry.”

Institute founder and CEO Jim Ratcliffe is a big fan of the quarterback and was behind the company's move to make his own model.

“This is a fantastically interesting project,” Ratcliffe said. “We want to build the cleanest 4x4 in the world and send it to explorers, farmers and off-road enthusiasts around the world.”

INEOS said it was "determined that the vehicle not only fills a gap in the market that Defender has left, but also delivers improved build quality and reliability."

Ratcliffe added: “I am a big fan of the old Defender and have a huge amount of respect for its off-road capability and our new 4x4 was inspired by it. But as long as our SUV can share its spirit, our new car will be a major improvement over previous models.”

The Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is a fierce defender of its protector. In 2016, this prevented a Canadian company from using a defender named 'for an all-terrain vehicle.

At the time, JLR legal boss Keith Benjamin said, “The Defender is an iconic vehicle that is part of JLR's past, present and future. The success of our business is based on unique designs and technical attributes, and we intend to actively protect the brand around the world.”

INEOS informed JLR of their plans. Crotty said there was no conflict between the two parties and that JLR was "neutral" in response. “There was no big drop – just a serious conversation,” he said.

“We're not going to release a copy; we went out to produce a new car that fills the space that the defender used to fill.”


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