Ineos, a new automaker, looks to fill a niche abandoned by Land Rover
Does the world need another SUV? It just might, if you ask Sir Jim Ratcliff, a 4x4 enthusiast who always loved the Land Rover Defender, a basic, no-thrills British-built SUV that had proved its worth for decades in war and peace, in Botswana and Belgravia.
By 2017, though, the Defender, which had been basically unchanged for decades, was gone. It was replaced by a more modern and far less basic model, and that made Sir Jim unhappy.
Nursing a beer in The Grenadier pub in London, Sir Jim decided that if Land Rover was no longer building a Defender, his company, Ineos, would — despite never having built a car. But having conceived the thought at The Grenadier, where the ceiling is lined in money, seemed to bode well.
This is why you’ve never heard of Britain’s Ineos Automotive, division of the world’s third-largest chemical company, nor its first vehicle, the forthcoming Ineos Grenadier SUV.
Given that automobiles are among the world’s most regulated and complicated consumer products, deciding to build a new one from scratch is no small undertaking. And the market is filled with competitors with decades of experience. So Ineos is partnering with BMW Group for the Grenadier’s powertrain and with Magna Steyr for chassis and suspension to create an SUV for a part of the market the company feels is underserved.
“In terms of capability and rugged dependability, you've got a vehicle that's built for a 30-year lifespan plus rather than a 10-year lifespan,” said Gregg Clark, executive vice president for Ineos Automotive. Clark comes to Ineos after stints at Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-AMG, Mercedes-Benz and Acura.
While interior design has yet to be finalized, the Grenadier’s exterior is 90% finished. Unlike most modern crossover SUVs, which feature unibody construction, the new Grenadier is built body-on-frame, like a true SUV. Its exterior is a combination of steel and aluminum that’s reinforced so that owners can sit or stand, or work on its bumper, fenders and hood. The roof’s static load capacity is 750 pounds — enough for you and a friend to pitch a tent on it and camp overnight.
The Grenadier’s side rails feature integral L hooks for mounting jerry cans, shovels, rescue ramps, luggage and other items. Grab rails at the top of the rear side windows can be used as tie-down points or grab handles for climbing into the rear seats. The rear hatch door is split 70/30 and hinged like a barn-door. An optional ladder can be fitted for accessing the roof. And unlike a Jeep Wrangler, its windshield is fixed; the sunroof is removable.
As you might expect of a true boulder basher, the undercarriage has front and rear skid plates, rock sliders, as well as underbody protection for the oil pan, transmission and differentials. The fuel tank is protected by 4 mil grade steel. And, thoughtfully, the Grenadier is pre-wired with auxiliary switches so that aftermarket electric accessories, such as a front or rear winch, can be activated from the driver’s seat.
Powering this off-road warrior is a turbocharged BMW inline six-cylinder engine and ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability and a two-speed transfer case. A diesel engine will be sold in most markets, but not the United States or Canada due to emission requirements. However, the company is investigating the possibility of offering a Grenadier powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain and is in talks with both BMW and Hyundai about supplying it.
The vehicle will be built at a manufacturing facility in Hambach, Germany, recently acquired from Mercedes-Benz. Originally, Ineos had planned to build on a greenfield site in Bridgend, South Wales. But when the Hambach plant became available, Ineos snapped it up once the company learned of the level of corporate investment in the plant during the past five years. Under the terms of the acquisition, Ineos will contract build the Smart EQ Fortwo and some Mercedes-Benz components at the plant, in addition to the 30,000 units annually of the Grenadier, with one-third of those vehicles coming to North America. While the company isn’t currently considering importing knock-down kits of Grenadier, they will if the forthcoming Ineos pickup becomes a reality. It would allow the company to avoid the United States chicken tax, a 25 percent tariff on imported light trucks.
Ineos Automotive is currently deciding where to locate its North American headquarters, with leading contenders including Houston (where its parent company is headquartered), Georgia and the Carolinas. It also has to establish a dealer network. Clark said the company is looking for strong regional dealers who can provide a regional footprint, and excellent operational capabilities. The company expects to have 30-to-50 retailers across the U.S. and Canada, which should give them 70 percent market coverage.
Despite all of the work yet to be done, including getting U.S. government certification and establishing its dealer network, the company expects sales to start in Europe in the summer of 2022, with U.S. sales to follow. Pricing has not been announced, but Ineos Automotive expects its new SUV will slot above the Wrangler and Bronco, but below the Mercedes-Benz G-Class in the market.
While the Grenadier’s success is far from guaranteed, it should be welcome in a market hungry for SUVs.
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