Ineos Automotive, a subsidiary of British chemicals company Ineos, appears to be close to a deal to build its new 4x4 in Bridgend, Wales, next to the soon-to-close Ford factory.
The company's boss, billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, has reportedly been interested in the site for some time. Now Welsh economy minister Ken Skates has told BBC Radio Wales that talks are "very advanced" between the Welsh government and the newly established car maker.
Reports suggest that rather than use Ford's existing production facility, as previously considered, Ineos would build its own plant close by. If it goes ahead, the new facility could bring hundreds of new jobs to an area set to be badly affected by Ford's decision to close its engine plant next year.
Ineos's upcoming challenger to the iconic Defender is being developed in partnership with German engineering firm MBtech, which is part-owned by Mercedes-Benz.
The technical tie-up will involve MBtech allocating 200 full-time engineers to the project from its Stuttgart base. Ineos Automotive CEO Dirk Heilmann says the deal will "bring together German engineering and British design and entrepreneurship". MBtech will be tasked with "working up" the exact specifications of the vehicle to ensure that it is a "truly rugged, reliable and uncompromising 4x4".
MBtech was founded in 1995 as Mercedes-Benz Technologies, but the German car making giant sold a 65% share of the firm to AKKA Technologies in 2012. MBtech continues to work on multiple projects for Mercedes as well as with other car firms. Under the deal with Ineos, it will take the lead on overall vehicle development of the Grenadier, overseeing all components.
Ineos turned over £43 billion in 2017, making a £3.8bn profit. It has plans to invest around £700 million in a chosen site for the Grenadier.
The company has previously stated that it's open to a number of possible solutions; it could share a facility with another company, convert a used plant or build a new one. “We’d originally said our desire is to build it in the UK, and that remains the case,” Ineos director Tom Crotty told Autocar last year. But the company has also received a number of offers from European sites.
Ineos is still keen to start production in the UK, despite uncertainty over the automotive industry as concerns mount over the possibility of the UK leaving the European Union without a deal.
“We’ve gone into this decision with eyes wide open,” Crotty said when asked about Brexit's impact. “It really doesn’t have an impact. We think this is a project for the UK that would be hugely beneficial post-Brexit, because we would be exporting 70-80% of the cars we would make."
Ineos is targeting sales of around 25,000 units per year. The company has previously outlined its vision for the 4x4 to be sold globally but is particularly targeting the US, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. Prices are set to stick closely to those of the original Defender, which was priced from £25,000.
The 'Projekt Grenadier' name references the Grenadier pub in Knightsbridge that's close to the Ineos office and where plans for the car were first discussed, according to Crotty. The German spelling of 'project' is a nod to the nationality of Heilmann.
“We want the best-quality engineering under the skin of this vehicle, hence the nod in this direction,” Crotty said. “We want to remind everyone that what we’re trying to do is make an uncompromising 4x4 with high levels of engineering.”