Nobody can accuse Ineos of dodging a challenge. Many scoffed when a company with no motoring background announced plans to build a replacement for the classic Land Rover Defender – a car set to launch in October 2022 in the Middle East, where customers love off-road favourites such as the Defender, Nissan Patrol, Toyota Land Cruiser and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen.
But Ineos has form for stretching its boundaries. The British company made billions of dollars manufacturing petrochemicals, but has branched out in recent years. Its move into the automotive industry follows takeovers of two football teams, a large investment in the Mercedes-AMG F1 team and title sponsorship of an America’s Cup sailing team. It also owns the clothing brand Belstaff.
Its latest venture is Ineos Automotive and the coming Grenadier 4x4, dreamt up in 2017 by the company’s founder, Jim Ratcliffe, after Land Rover decided to cease production of the Defender. (A new Defender followed, but is no longer the simple, rugged working vehicle that’s been a global favourite since the 1940s.)
Ratcliffe felt it left a gap in the market, and so the Grenadier was born. It’s now in the prototype stage of development.
Having spent years working with Audi and McLaren, Gary Pearson, Ineos’s Middle East head of sales and marketing, acknowledges that convincing diehard fans of Land Rover, Toyota and Nissan to try something new will be challenging. But with brands such as Mitsubishi pulling back from the GCC, Pearson sees an opportunity.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he says. “In automotive terms, Ineos is a small company, like Caterham or Morgan. They serve a very specific purpose to a niche customer. But we’ve seen the gap for a hard-working, off-road vehicle.”
Pearson hopes that by establishing credibility through capability, Ineos can develop a cool factor, giving the Grenadier lifestyle appeal. “Very few customers who buy a diver’s watch will take it 200 metres under the sea,” he says. “But they like the connection with what it could do.”
Ineos will supply regional farms and mines with Grenadiers to prove its worth, while also building the brand through motor shows, boat shows and the coming Expo 2020 Dubai.
“Our focus is on keeping the volume sensible, and establishing brand and service,” Pearson says. “In the UAE, for example, we plan a three-figure volume for the first 12 months. We have to keep our humility and prove that we can earn people’s business.”
The Grenadier will be built at a factory in Hambach, France, that Ineos bought from Mercedes. It can make 30,000 Grenadiers a year. Right now, it’s making smart cars, giving Ineos valuable automotive logistic experience. Partnerships with BMW and engineering company Magna Steyr should ensure top-quality knowledge goes into the car’s development.
When the Grenadier reaches GCC customers next October, six prototypes will have completed 1.8 million kilometres of global testing. The finished model will cost less than a G-Wagen, but more than a Patrol, and Ineos is in the process of building up a regional service network.
A pickup version of the Grenadier and an extra-long wheelbase model will follow. But Pearson says this is only the start of the Ineos Automotive story.
“We’re an engineering company that’s good at identifying opportunities and filling gaps,” he says. “We are building a vehicle company here; this is not a one-off product.”
Test-driving the Grenadier prototype
There’s more than a hint of Defender to the Grenadier’s boxy look, and while the development prototype I’m sitting in is an early one, it shows this is no style-over-substance soft-roader.
Alongside a professional driver, I climb up steep, rutted Hertfordshire hills in the UK, traverse a stream, clamber through the woods and scoot at pace over the furrows of a ploughed field.
The engineering is relatively simple – no clever terrain response systems or air suspension here, and a ladder-frame chassis with a beam rear axle – but the ride quality is impressively supple from the passenger seat.
The lack of complexity is deliberate; this will be a working machine, and it’s easier to replace a coil-spring strut in the middle of the desert than to fix complicated air suspension.
Power in this prototype comes from a torquey six-cylinder, twin-turbo BMW diesel engine, but the GCC will get a petrol version. There’s unlikely to be a V8; such a model would simply be for show, and that’s not the Ineos way.
Shortly after my passenger ride, this Grenadier will be stripped down to see how thousands of kilometres of off-road development have affected its components. It’s got permanent four-wheel drive, diff locks and a low ratio gearbox, although that’s out of action today, thanks to some over-exuberant testing; the lever to engage it is cable-tied to the makeshift dashboard.
A production-spec interior has been unveiled in a static car, and looks much more inviting than this engineering study. This is prototype two of six, and while there’s much work to be done, it’s an encouraging start.