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Chemical firm Ineos to build off-roader akin to Defender

Autocar logo Autocar 13/02/2017 Rachel Burgess
Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe with the Land Rover Defender © Haymarket Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe with the Land Rover Defender

Chemical firm Ineos will build a Defender-like model, described as an “uncompromising 4x4 off-roader”, having identified a gap in the market since the Land Rover Defender ceased production.

Autocar reported last July that the company, headed by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, was considering building a Defender replica, and was carrying out a feasibility study to see if the model was economically viable for production.

With the feasibility study now complete, the firm said it is prepared to invest “many hundreds of million” in making the new vehicle and hopes this can be done in the UK.

While early reports suggested the move would revive production of the old Defender or create a replica, the firm has confirmed the model will only “reflect its philosophy”.

The company said: “The target market is global and 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 claims it is one of the world’s largest manufacturers, but it is the first time it has produced a vehicle.

Boss Jim Ratcliffe said: “This is a fantastically exciting project. We want to build the world’s purest 4x4 and are aiming it at explorers, farmers and off-road enthusiasts across the globe.”

The firm said it “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”. It added that a suitable manufacturing location was the next phase of the project and the company will look at UK sites alongside other European options.

The project will be headed up by Dirk Heilmann, former head of engineering and technology at Ineos. Heilmann, now boss of the newly formed Ineos Automotive is currently recruiting a team of “automotive experts”. He said: “This is an amazing project for everyone involved. Our job is to create the world’s best 4x4 and we are already moving forward with our plans”. 

Ratcliffe added: “I am a great admirer of the old Land Rover Defender and have enormous respect for its off road capability, 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”.

Ineos director Tom Crotty previously told Autocar that the model would most likely retain a diesel powertrain in order to be reliable and tough enough for customers in sub-saharan Africa.He also cited the US and Africa as key markets to be considered, adding that the US was a largely untapped market for the original Defender. "It's the world's biggest buyer of SUVs and a market of more than 300 million people," he said.

Jaguar Land Rover is fiercely protective of its Defender. In December last year, it prevented a Canadian company using the name Defender for an all-terrain vehicle. At the time, Jaguar Land Rover legal boss Keith Benjamin said: “The Land Rover Defender is an iconic vehicle that is part of Jaguar Land Rover’s past, present and future. The success of our business is based on unique design and engineering attributes, and we intend to protect the brand robustly around the world.”

A spokesman added that the firm would “remain vigilant [on this matter] across more than 150 markets” in which it sells vehicles.

The next generation of Land Rover Defender is due to arrive in 2019.

Land Rover Defender: since 1948: The Land Rover Defender is set to end production later this year. Join us as we trace its roots right back to 1948. In pictures: history of the Land Rover Defender
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