Ineos turns to a surprising new market: car production

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Photo by Land Rover Heading downstream: Chairman Jim Ratcliffe said the Ineos vehicle will be inspired by the old Land Rover Defender.

Oil and petrochemical giant Ineos has made the shock announcement that it may invest “many hundreds of millions” to produce a four-wheel drive off-road car. UK-based Ineos has 45 manufacturing sites around the globe producing petrochemicals, including polymers such as PE, PP, PVC and PS – but none of them manufacture anything as far downstream as a car component.

Ineos announced Feb 13: “Following the completion of a six-month feasibility study, Ineos has today confirmed that it is to go ahead and build a brand new ‘uncompromising’ 4 x 4 off-roader. Whilst the company is one of the largest manufacturers in the world, it will be the first time that Ineos has produced such a vehicle.”

The main reason for Ineos taking this new direction is that group founder and chairman Jim Ratcliffe was a big fan of the Land Rover Defender, which was built for decades in the UK before Jaguar Land Rover finally ended production in early 2016.

“This is a fantastically exciting project,” said Ratcliffe in this week’s announcement. “We want to build the world’s purest 4 x 4 and are aiming it at explorers, farmers and off-road enthusiasts across the globe.”

Ineos said it expects “to spend many hundreds of millions on the project and is determined that the vehicle will not only fill a gap in the market vacated by the Defender but also provide a step change improvement in build quality and reliability”.

The company is now looking for a suitable manufacturing location in the UK as well as other European sites.

The project is being run by Dirk Heilmann, CEO of Ineos Automotive and formerly head of the group’s engineering and technology. He has already started recruiting a team of automotive experts.

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

The Ineos vehicle “will not be a replica of the Defender but will reflect its philosophy”, said Ineos.

“I am a great admirer of the old Land Rover Defender and have enormous respect for its off road capability,” said Ratcliffe, “and our new 4 x4 has been inspired by it. But whilst our off-roader might share its spirit, our new car will be a major improvement on previous models.”

The Defender’s demise was lamented by many car fans who loved its stripped down, boxy design, rugged metal panelling and spartan interior trim. Ineos has not said whether its plans for the new vehicle include more extensive use of plastics.

The company said the target market for the planned vehicle is a global one that “includes agriculture and forestry workers, explorers and adventurers as well as traditional Defender fans that simply enjoy an authentic 4 x 4 driving experience”.

Ineos said it is “determined that its new vehicle will offer a real and pure alternative to the current crop of standardised ‘jelly-mould’ SUVs”.

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