Small electric SUV will attempt to beat the Defender at its own game
Expansion begins with Defender-rivalling electric off-roader as boss commits billions to model line-up
Ineos Automotive has revealed plans to substantially grow its line-up to four vehicles by the end of the decade.
A new, smaller electric off-roader will kick-start the expansion of the nascent marque’s portfolio beyond the go-anywhere Ineos Grenadier from 2026, setting up the firm to potentially beat the electric Land Rover Defender to market.
The ambitious plans underline Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s determination to establish his automotive division as a brand rather than the maker of a single, niche off-roader, as well as building its credentials in the electric and luxury car markets. As such, the cars are expected to be sold under the Ineos brand name, with the Grenadier designation reserved for that model. Rumours had suggested the smaller car would be sold as the Grenadier Sport, but this is no longer believed to be the case.
Speaking to Autocar, Ratcliffe revealed he has spent around £1.3 billion launching the Ineos Automotive division to date, suggesting a bill in excess of £4bn to launch the four-model line-up, even with the distribution and marketing channels established.
Asked why he was committing so heavily to the automotive sector despite the significant challenges of succeeding in the industry, and prior to the Ineos Grenadier being established in the market, Ratcliffe said: “It’s business. I respect what we’re up against, but I feel that we can establish ourselves in a part of the market that’s not currently served. There’s a gap in terms of off-road capability, and I think we can build a very profitable brand around that unique position. The risks are high, but the rewards are too. I’m not someone who is scared by a challenge.”
Late last year, Ratcliffe appointed Lynn Calder – who had previously acted as CEO for other Ineos ventures – as CEO of the Automotive division and employed Grenadier project manager Hans-Peter Pessler as Ineos Automotive’s chief operating officer. Pessler came from Magna Steyr, the Austrian firm that led the car’s development and which is well known for developing and manufacturing cars for other OEMs.
These include the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, a project in which Pessler played a leading role. The latest G-Class is selling in record numbers and contributing to historic revenues of around £42,000 per vehicle sold for Mercedes-Benz, up around 25% on pre-pandemic levels. The four Ineos models are expected to be built at its factory in Hambach, France, although Ratcliffe hasn’t ruled out opening new operations around the globe.
After initial delays, production of the Grenadier is set to ramp up to around 25,000 cars per year over the course of 2023, while sales will open in crucial new markets, including the US. However, the plant has substantial additional capacity for extra shifts, plus space that is currently given over to contract manufacturing projects for its former owner Mercedes-Benz but which are likely to be phased out over the coming years.
In the meantime, development of the new, smaller electric off-road model is believed to be well advanced, with the styling all but signed off and a freeze on platform development imminent. The car will be significantly shorter than the 4.7-metre Grenadier, potentially placing it as a rival in size to the Land Rover Defender 90, which is 4.3m in length.
It will sit on an all-new, Ineos-developed platform created specifically for electric propulsion but will feature many of the Grenadier design cues, as well as its off-road ability. It is expected but not confirmed that Magna Steyr will continue to be closely associated with the project. A target range of 400km (249 miles) has been set by Ratcliffe.
Ratcliffe revealed to Autocar: “It will be smaller than Grenadier and have its own character, but it will still look like a younger brother – the family resemblance will be there. We saw the latest clay model last month, and Toby [Ecuyer, who designed Grenadier] is basically there.
“Because it’s electric it will inevitably carry a bit of a weight penalty, but my expectation is that it will still have the range and capability of the Grenadier. We aren’t going to compromise.”
Pessler said: “We have thought about linking up with another manufacturer and sharing technology, but if we want to be honest about going into this off-road niche and ensuring that all of our vehicles have the level of capability we believe makes them authentic, then we have to go our own way.”
Pessler also confirmed the platform will be scalable up and down in size but said his team was still defining its full potential. He went on to dismiss using sophisticated torque vectoring systems or in-board motors, saying any car that is developed by Ineos needs to be easy to maintain in the field.
The technical concept for the whole car is scheduled to be signed off by the end of the year, with detailed revisions and test work expected to be carried out from early next year. This will include reliability testing on Austria’s famously brutal Schöckl pass, which Ratcliffe has determined every Ineos car must be able to traverse more times than any other rival on the market.
That raises intriguing questions about the smaller electric car and larger, Grenadier-sized luxury model that Ratcliffe has revealed are also in the product plan for the firm. While making use of the same platform and layout as the Defender 90 rival and requiring significant off-road ability to stay true to the Ineos brand’s ethos, the smaller car is expected to have more of an urban focus.
A rival in terms of size, if not potentially all-road capability, would be the 4.1m-long Jeep Avenger. Likewise, the luxury model, tipped to be an extravagantly upgraded version of the Grenadier rather than a bespoke model, is expected to forgo some of its off-road capability as a trade-off for better on-road manners.
Pessler highlighted the challenges of scaling his engineering team to develop the new models, saying: “It’s easy to bring in the expertise, but it is the culture I need to focus on most. We have a huge amount to do, but it’s crucial we don’t grow too quickly.” In addition to developing the new cars, Ineos has committed to introducing annual model-year updates of the Grenadier.
There is also the prospect that the car itself will need replacing or heavily updating by the end of the decade. While Ratcliffe refused to rule out hydrogen-powered versions of these cars being developed, he did concede it was unlikely given the time frame for their launch. Working in partnership with Hyundai, which currently sells the Nexo FCEV and has bold plans to expand its hydrogen commercial offering in the coming years, Ineos had been developing a hydrogen-powered Grenadier prototype.
However, Ratcliffe conceded that the short-term adoption of the fuel was unlikely for anything beyond large commercial vehicle use, and he highlighted the sporadic roll-out of refuelling stations globally as a significant drawback and a reason for focusing on battery-electric development initially.
Q&A with Lynn Calder, CEO of Ineos Automotive
What’s your background?
“Oil, gas and chemicals. I’ve held two CEO roles with Ineos, and I guess that once people know and trust how you operate, opportunities come your way. Ineos Automotive is full of people who understand automotive: the Grenadier proves that. What we need now is a sustainable plan that allows us to be here in 10 to 15 years’ time.”
Do you like cars?
“Yes. Like many people, I learned to drive in a Ford Fiesta – A-reg, pretty battered – and now I’m lucky enough to own a Porsche Macan Turbo. The buying experience was fascinating. I have experiences I can relate to this job.”
How hands-on do you expect to be with the automotive details?
“I’m not here to just look at the spreadsheets, put it that way. I’m curious and I like a challenge, so I will ask a lot of questions – not to rip up the rulebook, but to find out why things are done a certain way and to consider if it’s the best way.”
Does launching a new automotive company feel like a huge step?
“I’ve been really fortunate to have some incredible roles in my career, with big financial and team responsibilities. I’ve never had a career plan or been the sort of person that coveted doing the same job forever. I like change. I need to understand the team, build it and motivate it. I’m excited, not daunted.”
What kind of boss is Jim Ratcliffe?
“Brilliant but demanding. He hasn’t got where he is by being shy and retiring! He’s curious and, as with the other owners at Ineos, they don’t beat about the bush. It’s quite a direct relationship, but that’s how I like it. I know what’s expected, put it that way.”