Jim Ratcliffe, the multibillionaire chemicals tycoon and Brexit supporter, has handed a contract to create a “British” successor to the Land Rover Defender to a company in Germany.
With a fortune estimated at £7bn, Ratcliffe is the second-richest person in Britain after 27-year-old property heir Hugh Grosvenor. He said on Wednesday his chemicals company Ineos had signed up more than 200 German engineers to create a new “world-class 4×4”, the idea for which he first conceived in a pub near Buckingham Palace.
Ineos said Stuttgart-based engineering firm MBtech will “take the initial design concepts through to a fully engineered vehicle … followed by prototypes” produced in 2018 in Germany.
The company said it was evaluating a number of options for full-scale production of the vehicle in the UK and abroad. “Our preference is for a UK location, but the choice must be about head as well as heart,” a spokesperson said.
Ratcliffe had said the UK was his number one choice for a £600m production facility, but only if the government subsidised the venture, which he said would create 10,000 jobs.
“It would be quite a challenge to do it in the UK without a subsidy because there are facilities and trained workforces [elsewhere],” he said last year. “So in the UK we get higher risk and higher costs. At the end of the day it has to be a profitable venture.”
Ratcliffe, a vocal supporter of the leave campaign, had told Sun readers: “Our preference is to build it in the UK, on the eastern seaboard. We’d like to retain the Britishness and have a bit of passion about UK manufacturing. We believe that Britain can produce something as reliable as Germany or Japan if we do it well.”
Dirk Heilmann, chief executive of Ineos Automotive, said: “We have found a quality partner in MBtech who we believe have the competency, talent and foresight to enable us to deliver a high-quality vehicle to the market.
“This deal will bring together German engineering and British entrepreneurship to create a truly formidable off-roader.”
Ratcliffe said he came up with the idea of pumping half a billion pounds into creating a successor to the Defender, which Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) ceased producing in 2016 after 68 years, over beers in the Grenadier pub in Belgravia. “It was just there at the bar,” he told the Telegraph. “It was after the second pint.”
The Ineos chairman and majority shareholder said he wanted to create a “rugged, uncompromising, no frills” successor to the Defender because of his love for the original, which is also a favourite of the Queen.
“When I’m on safari in Africa I always prefer to be in a Land Rover,” he said. “But I always carry a picnic basket.”
Ineos has dubbed the vehicle Projekt Grenadier after the pub, but has asked members of the public to suggest a permanent brand name.
JLR, which plans to bring out a next-generation version of the Defender next year, has filed trademark applications to protect the shape of its Land Rovers, which date back to 1948.
Ratcliffe, who was born and brought up in a council house on the outskirts of Manchester, founded a predecessor of Ineos 25 years ago and sank his life savings into it.
Ineos has grown to become the largest private company in the UK. It expects to make annual sales of £44bn and profits of between £3.6bn and £4.4bn this year. The company’s eclectic portfolio of assets includes Swiss football club Lausanne-Sport and luxury jacket maker Belstaff.