Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Land Rover Defender's spirit lives on as billionaire pours cash into new off-roader

The Land Rover Defender
The Land Rover Defender

Alan Tovey

Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe plans to start manufacturing a rugged off-road car in the style of Land Rover’s discontinued Defender in a massive investment that breaks new ground for his Ineos group.

Mr Ratcliffe made his fortune with the Ineos chemicals company but is known for his interest in the car sector and is a fan of the Defender.

He sees a gap in the market with the Defender going out of production a year ago and Land Rover not due to introduce a replacement until 2019.

Rumours have been circulating since last summer that Ineos had been considering a move into the car sector, though the company has been tight-lipped about its plans.

The Land Rover Defender, the ultimate off-road workhorse, takes its final curtain call
The Land Rover Defender, the ultimate off-road workhorse, takes its final curtain call

However on Monday Ineos confirmed it expects to spend “hundreds of millions” on the plan, which will move the company into a new sector.

Ineos has completed a six-month feasibility study into the project and believes it is viable, with hopes that the new car could be built in the UK, potentially creating 1,000 jobs in a new factory.

Calling it a “fantastically exciting project”, Mr Ratcliffe - one of the UK's richest men - said he wanted to “build the world’s purest 4x4 and we are aiming at explorers, farmers and off-road enthusiasts across the world”.

The new vehicle will not be a replica of the Defender but will “reflect its philosophy” according to Ineos, which claims the car will “offer a real and pure alternative to the current crop of standardised jelly-mould SUVs”.

Tom Crotty, a director at Ineos, said the company envisages a market in the "tens of thousands, not hundreds" per year for the new car and that building it Britain would be an important selling feature.

"Having Made in Britain would add a certain cachet but we have to be realistic," he said. " We want to build this but we are not going to die in a ditch over the location."

Building a factory and getting design work would mean that the first vehicles would not be ready until 2020, Mr Crotty said, with pricing expecting to be around the same level as the old Defender - which cost around £25,000 for an entry-level model. 

Producing a car is not a vanity project for Mr Ratcliffe, and the company sees a real market opportunity said Mr Crotty.

"It's a massive undertaking but we believe we are pretty good at big projects," he said. "We've just spent $2bn on a project that allows us to import gas from the other side of the world."

Ineos has appointed Dirk Heilmann, the company’s former head of engineering and technology, to lead the newly formed Ineos Automotive, which is now recruiting experts from the car industry.

“This is an amazing project for everyone involved,” said Mr Heilmann. “Our job is to create the world’s best 4x4 and we are already moving forward with our plans.”

Land Rover is protective of the Defender brand and last year stopped a Canadian company using the name for an off-roader it launched.

In a statement, Jaguar Land Rover called the Defender "an iconic vehicle that is part of Jaguar Land Rover’s past, present and future. The success of our business is based on unique design and engineering attributes, and we intend to protect the brand robustly around the world."

How far the project will go remains to be seen with the car industry working on notoriously low margins.

Professor David Bailey, an industry expert at Aston University, said: "There could be a small market opportunity but there is a lot of competition.

"When Jaguar Land Rover closed the Solihull Defender production line, which was too small, it started restoring old Defenders and selling them and is probably making more money on those than it did on new ones."

He also highlighted the challenges of making a car from scratch that will meet motorists' expectations.

"People underestimate just how hard it is to build a car which has the reliability we have come to expect and is also cutting edge," Prof Bailey said.

"But then there are some niche sports car manufacturers building a handful of cars for die-hard enthusiasts and maybe this car could find the same sort of market."


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Telegraph.co.uk