Billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe has chosen to build the “British” successor to the Land Rover Defender 4×4 in France, rather than Bridgend in Wales.
Ratcliffe, who has built up an estimated £12.15bn fortune from petrochemicals company Ineos, announced on Tuesday that the Ineos Grenadier vehicle will be built at a former Mercedes-Benz factory in Hambach, close to the French-German border. The deal will “safeguard” 1,300 jobs at the factory, but dash hopes for an automotive revival in south Wales.
Ratcliffe, a vocal Brexit supporter who recently left the UK for tax-free Monaco, said Hambach had presented the company with “a unique opportunity that we simply could not ignore”.
He said that in Hambach, Ineos was buying “a modern automotive manufacturing facility with a world-class workforce”.
“Ineos Automotive set out a vision to build the world’s best utilitarian 4×4, and at our new home in Hambach, we will do just that,” he added.
Ratcliffe last year announced plans to build a factory in Bridgend and employ 500 British people building the new vehicle. “We have looked long and hard at possible manufacturing locations for Grenadier across the world with lots of good options to choose from,” he said in September 2019. “The decision to build in the UK is a significant expression of confidence in British manufacturing, which has always been at the heart of what Ineos stands for.”
When Ratcliffe announced plans for the Grenadier – which is named after the pub near Buckingham Palace where he first conceived of the idea – the billionaire said: “Our preference is to build it in the UK.
“We’d like to retain the Britishness and have a bit of passion about UK manufacturing,” he told Sun readers at the time. “We believe that Britain can produce something as reliable as Germany or Japan if we do it well.”
However on Tuesday, Ratcliffe announced that Ineos had bought the Hambach factory from Mercedes-Benz and would start building the 4×4 there in late 2021. “The acquisition secures the future of the site and safeguards many jobs that might otherwise have been lost,” Ineos said.
Dirk Heilmann, chief executive of Ineos Automotive, said: “This acquisition marks our biggest milestone yet in the development of the Grenadier. Alongside the exhaustive testing programme that our prototype vehicles are now undergoing, we can now begin preparations at Hambach to build our 4×4 from late next year for delivery to our customers around the globe.”
Ratcliffe said he came up with the idea of pumping £500m into creating a successor to the Defender over beers in the Grenadier pub in Belgravia, London.
He had already selected German, rather than British, engineers to create the designs for the vehicle.
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.”
Jaguar Land Rover ceased producing the original design of the Land Rover Defender in 2016 after 68 years but plans to make its own all-new version.
According the latest Sunday Times rich list, Ratcliffe is worth just over £12bn, making him the fifth richest person in the UK.
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