Toby Ecuyer, designer of the new Ineos Grenadier 4x4, is famous in the design world but entirely new to the automotive sphere. Although he insists he has felt and understood the intrinsic appeal of cars from childhood, he didn’t learn to drive until he was 30, trained at university as an architect and has spent most of the past 20 years designing some of the world’s finest superyachts.
The Grenadier is his first-ever automotive design project, remarkable given the vehicle’s instant prominence in the car world as the replacement – in spirit at least – for a 70-year-old off-roading icon. It’s a bit like Ferrari choosing a distinguished furniture designer to shape its Enzo replacement.
For the Grenadier’s billionaire backer, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, this is a debut automotive project, too, although it is already clear that the Ineos automotive company he and Ecuyer (plus a likeminded German- and Austrian-based engineering team) are busy creating will eventually offer a range of models, not one. Having initially planned to build cars at plants in Portugal and Wales, they now intend to acquire from Daimler the ready-made, ex-Smart Hambach plant in western France.
The genesis of the Grenadier, a ruggedly simple off-road SUV, is already well known. It was inspired by the 2016 demise of Land Rover’s original Defender and especially by the reluctance of Ratcliffe, a Defender lover as well as founder-owner of the mighty Ineos petrochemicals group, to accept the situation. Rebuffed when he tried to buy the original Defender design to continue production, Ratcliffe set out to build his own 4x4, naming it after a favourite pub in London’s Belgravia. The first Grenadier model was recently revealed, winning approval from a previously sceptical ‘old Landie’ community. Ecuyer was introduced to the automotive world and Autocar took up an exclusive opportunity to meet him.
The Grenadier design mission is fascinatingly different from most: replace the Defender with a design closer to the original than its own former manufacturer was planning. Give it enough of a unique face to avoid accusations of copying and use modern running gear to build in greater comfort and capability. Oh yes, and make it exactly as its strong-minded Defender-loving billionaire backer wants. Ecuyer cites his close relationship with Ratcliffe (they have so far built two superyachts together) plus a career spent dealing with other clients who were “extremely determined and powerful people” for his ability to get to grips with this project. Also obvious is Ecuyer’s willingness to immerse himself in necessary background research: his own fascinating back story (see overleaf) reveals how, since his earliest architecture days, he has shown an indefatigable willingness to chase vital details.