Ineos aims for Defender-sized gap in no-nonsense 4x4 market
"FORM follows function - and capability is the priority," is the manifesto statement of automotive newcomer Ineos, backed by billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
Its first car is this no-nonsense 4x4... which, in the photographs at least, looks a lot like a bad drawing of the defunct Land Rover Defender.
Called the Grenadier, after the London pub in which the chemicals magnate brainstormed his vision of a stripped back off-roader, it is very much after the market vacated by Land Rover.
Although undoubtedly capable, the new Defender has drawn criticism from some quarters for being a bit, well, soft compared to the bare knuckle boxer of old.
Ratcliffe reckons there is a gap in the market "abandoned by a number of manufacturers, for a utilitarian off-road vehicle".
"This gave us our engineering blueprint for a capable, durable and reliable 4x4 built to handle the world's harshest environments," he said, adding: "But it had to look the part as well."
The Grenadier uses a traditional box-section ladder frame - of the sort abandoned by Land Rover with the new Defender - with beam axles, permanent four-wheel drive, lockable differentials and internal combustion engines.
We set out to design a modern, functional and highly capable 4x4 vehicle with utility at its core... Nothing is for show
The Ineos concept sounds a lot like the ingredients of the old Defender have been freshened up for the 21st century, particularly in terms of safety and emissions.
The Grenadier will "be comfortable, meeting the expectations of the 21st century consumer for equipment levels and safety systems", insists Ineos.
There's certainly a built-in utility to the vehicle. Exterior wiring, with exit points at the front and rear of the roof, is included as standard, for example - ideal for powering extra lights.
The Defender-esque round lamps front and rear are, says Ineos, intended to "imply the strength of a solid tube running from front to back".
The front lamps are the same units on the left and the right, making service and parts availability easier; similarly the rear lamps are a common unit.
The front fenders are strong enough to act as a seat, while the roof is also strong enough to be able to carry loads without fitting a roof rack.
"The brief was simple," explained head of design Toby Ecuyer.
"We set out to design a modern, functional and highly capable 4x4 vehicle with utility at its core... Nothing is for show.
"Modern engineering and production techniques ensure the Grenadier is highly capable, but we have been able to stay true to the essence of creating a utilitarian vehicle that will stand the test of time."
The plan is for the Grenadier to go into production late next year. Ineos said it had decided to show the design of the vehicle relatively early in the process to help raise awareness.
"Most manufacturers would hold back, but we are a new business, building a new brand, and we want to take people with us on this exciting journey," said Ineos Automotive CEO Dirk Heilmann.
The company had announced that it was going to build the Grenadier in Wales, though more recently it has investigated a factory site in France.
What does seem to be confirmed is that the petrol and diesel engines, both 3.0-litre units, are being supplied by BMW.
The transmission comes from ZF and the axles from tractor-maker Carraro. Much of the development work is being conducted by Magna Steyr from Austria, who are a serious outfit - they may even be the biggest car manufacturer you've never heard of, building the Mercedes G-Class off-roader, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar E-Pace and I-Pace, BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra.
Much of the truck-as-tool market had already migrated to pick-ups long before Land Rover euthanised the old Defender, and it remains to be seen if there is a sizeable enough market for the Grenadier.
Ratcliffe is clearly an astute and highly successful businessman, but other billionaires have fallen foul of the unique challenges of being a start-up in the motor industry - just ask James Dyson, who sank half a billion pounds into his aborted electric car project.
What Ineos says about the Grenadier
- "A 4x4 with purpose should always look like a proper 4x4... Grenadier has been designed to be 'easy to read' with a clear, unambiguous 'purpose'."
- "Balance of proportions has been achieved because there are no limitations dictated by an old platform: we started from scratch and there is no compromise on any angle."
- "Personalisation is a key requirement for our customers. The Grenadier will be able to fulfil the core functions of a utilitarian 4x4, but it’s a vehicle that we want to become ‘part of the family’."
- "The belt lines are functional – bump strips on the doors, or an optional ‘utility belt’ to the doors and rear body, to attach loads or accessories like a jerry can
- "The rear of the Grenadier is practical as well as visually striking. The small rear door opens first to enable easy loading and unloading of smaller items. The Grenadier can accommodate a Euro pallet."
- "The rear ladder can be fitted to aid access to the roof, and its design means it is aligned with the shut lines of the tailgate."