Ineos underlined its long-term ambitions to become a fully fledged carmaker with a “family” of vehicles, as the chemicals conglomerate unveiled designs for its first car, a successor to the original Land Rover Defender.
The Grenadier, which will be a “rugged, uncompromised off-roader”, marks the brand’s first foray into the automotive world, an industry with high costs and ferocious competition that is dominated by century-old businesses.
Last year Dyson pulled plans to enter the market with an electric car, but Ineos, backed by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, believes its first niche vehicle will be able to generate a profit for the company.
The group has received more than 50,000 expressions of interest in the vehicle, before even showing the designs on Wednesday, Mark Tennant, commercial director of Ineos Automotive, told the Financial Times.
Production begins late next year, with a plant in Portugal making body parts and a new factory at Bridgend in South Wales assembling the final vehicle. Other versions of the Grenadier, including a pick-up derivative, will follow, he added.
The company expects to use the site to make additional vehicles in future, though would not be drawn on timings or how wide its eventual portfolio may stretch.
“We are establishing Ineos Automotive as an OEM [original equipment manufacturer — industry shorthand for a carmaker], and we should probably not expect this model to be the final word,” said Mr Tennant.
The brand expects to turn out 25,000 Grenadier models a year at capacity, but Mr Tennant said: “If you’re putting in paint shops and facilities, you can potentially do something else later.” He added that the company was “in this for the long haul”.
It is the latest attempt by the business to emerge from its background in chemicals into other, more glamorous sectors, after its purchase of two football teams and sponsorship of the British cycling team.
“We are a new brand, we know what a huge job there is to do to raise awareness,” said Mr Tennant.
Sir Jim previously intended to launch an automotive project by buying the designs for the Land Rover Defender when the car was withdrawn from production in 2016 by Jaguar Land Rover, citing difficulties meeting new crash and emission regulations.
A totally revamped Defender model was launched by JLR this year, but it has experienced slow initial orders amid the global pandemic.
The Ineos model is built using the traditional “body on frame” design of the original Land Rover that gives it the distinctive box shape. Almost all new sport utility vehicles use an integrated design that makes them look “like jelly moulds”, Mr Tennant said.
“Most 4x4s today aren’t ‘off roaders’, they are ‘soft roaders’ more focused on the ability to deal with the largest pavements their owners can throw at them,” he added.
The Grenadier is aimed at a range of buyers from farmers and safari operators to off-road enthusiasts. The company is targeting sales in North America and Europe, as well as big markets across Africa, Australia and Asia.
While it retains many of the features familiar to previous Land Rover owners, there are modern features that bring the vehicle up to date. For instance, the bump above the bonnet aides pedestrian safety in a collision, something required in European crash tests.
The scheme was derided as a “vanity project” in its early phases, but Mr Tennant insists the model will return a profit once production has increased to its full level.
Ineos has teamed up with several established manufacturers for core components, including a 3-litre, straight-six petrol or diesel engine from BMW, a transmission system from German group ZF and axles from tractor company Carraro.