Mark Walton unpacks billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s ambitious plan to launch the Ineos Grenadier
Being a car journalist is like being an astronaut or working in a morgue – people are always fascinated by what I do. ‘Where are you going next?’ friends often ask me, imagining I’m going to reply, ‘I’m flying to Hawaii to spend three weeks driving a Ferrari.’ This time, however, I say, ‘I’m off to Scotland for a ride in the Ineos Grenadier.’
I see disappointment. ‘The what?’
‘The Grenadier. The Ineos Grenadier.’
‘The Ineos what?’
‘The new, er… the new Land Rover thing.’
The new Land Rover thing. Both Ineos and Land Rover will hate me for that. But it’s hard to explain the Grenadier in one sentence – Ineos didn’t even build cars until recently; it was too busy becoming a multinational chemical giant. And its first model does have an unusual back-story…
The founder, chairman and CEO of Ineos is Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Born in Lancashire in 1952, he grew up in a council house, did a degree in chemical engineering and is now a billionaire. Being spectacularly wealthy means Ratcliffe has spent many happy hours in old Land Rovers, on various adventures, Scottish estates, African safaris etc.
So when Land Rover ended production of its old-school Defender in 2016, Ratcliffe and a few friends met in a pub in Belgravia to nurse their pints and set the world to rights. Surely Land Rover was making a mistake, they lamented. Surely there was still a market for a utilitarian, hard-working off-roader? Despite most car manufacturers moving towards lifestyle-oriented SUVs, Ratcliffe was convinced the world still needed a tough, no-nonsense, go-anywhere 4×4. So Ratcliffe – a chemicals magnate, remember – decided there and then to build his own. And he named it after the pub, the Grenadier.
Now, most of us have had a stroke of genius late one night over a pint, only to completely forget about it the next morning. What’s remarkable is that Ratcliffe went on to start an entirely new car company, Ineos Automotive, and over the next five years spent a reported £650 million developing his new car.
The project hit a couple of bumps along the way. In 2019 Ineos said it would build the Grenadier in a new factory in Wales – but then in 2020 it bought a former Mercedes-Benz facility in France instead. It was a PR own-goal for the Brexit-supporting Ratcliffe, but the Hambach plant is state-of-the-art and comes with a ready-made workforce, and Ineos will continue to produce Smart electric cars under contract. A loss of face perhaps; but ultimately win-win.
Then there’s the design. The new Grenadier is – how can I put this politely? – ‘extremely derivative’. In other words, it looks like a Defender. Ineos’s head of design, Toby Ecuyer, argues that it ‘comes from the same place, uses the same rules’ as the Defender, so of course it looks familiar. Jaguar Land Rover, however, doesn’t see it that way: it took Ineos to court, claiming the old Defender was its trademark design. That argument was thrown out by a High Court judge in 2020, but Jaguar Land Rover continues to pursue legal avenues, prompting Mark Tennant, commercial director at Ineos Automotive, to say in a recent interview: ‘We are filling a position in the market that was abdicated by JLR… We would like JLR to have confidence in the direction they set for their brand and recognise that we are different.’
Away from the news, Ineos has been getting on with its new car and nerds like me have been getting quietly excited by the line-up of technical partners. There’s Magna Steyr in Austria, brought onboard to develop the chassis (the same company helped Mercedes with its reborn G Wagen). The solid axles are from Carraro, an Italian supplier to tractor and excavator manufacturers; and the engines come from BMW – a choice of two 3.0-litre straight-sixes, in both petrol and diesel configurations. A partnership with Hyundai is also exploring a hydrogen fuel-cell version.
So the Grenadier has gone from pub conversation to credible newcomer in a very short space of time, generating a lot more anticipation than your average start-up. Maybe that’s why, when Ineos invited Spear’s to take a ride in a prototype, we said yes. The Grenadier isn’t due to be properly launched until the summer, but curiosity got the better of us.
In the metal, the Grenadier is longer, wider and lower than the old Land Rover Defender, giving it a more squat appearance. Those few centimetres mean a lot in the passenger seat – the first thing you do in an old Defender is open the window to stick your elbow out, but the Grenadier has plenty of room. The other thing you notice is the helicopter-inspired interior, including a set of switches mounted in the roof. Very cool and very distinctive.
My driver today is Rob Barr, retired firefighter and off-road instructor. He takes off across the country estate parkland and starts tackling hills and gullies. Three things strike me from the passenger seat: first, the Grenadier’s ride is incredible. The words ‘rugged’ and ‘solid’ usually go hand in hand with ‘crude’, but there’s a real sophistication to the way the Grenadier’s suspension soaks up the surface, almost floating over the bumps and lumps.
Then there’s the off-road traction. Modern Land Rovers such as the new Defender use electronics to control wheel-spin, but the Grenadier has gone down a more old-fashioned mechanical route. This means bombproof engineering, but the downside is weight. We’ll have to see if the Grenadier feels heavy on the road, but on steep, wet grass as slippery as ice, it never hesitated.
And then the engine. Ineos appears to have done a great job of integrating several suppliers into a single unified car, not least the BMW straight-six. Rob was giving the 4×4 demo in a petrol-engined example, and its low-down torque – that brawny, brute force that off-road enthusiasts love – was as impressive as any turbodiesel.
By doing things properly with world-class partners, the Ineos Grenadier promises to be a serious proposition when it goes on sale in a few months’ time, and at around £50,000 in the UK, it’ll be competitively priced too. In the meantime, its existence is a testament to what guts and determination can do – plus a billion quid, of course. On first acquaintance, I raise a toast to Sir Jim’s pluck.
Image: Christian Riefenberg/Beadeye