British billionaire establishes a car company in Raleigh

What Happens When A Billionaire’s Favorite Auto Maker Drops His Favorite Design? He starts a car company and makes his own company.

In 2016, Land Rover redesigned the original Defender, replacing its beloved, stocky chassis with a more attractive successor. The off-road vehicle has not been altered for more than three decades. It was the standard of utilitarian elegance by which 4×4 scores were subsequently measured. Aesthetic reform marked the end of an era.

A year later, Jim Ratcliffe was still upset about it. The British billionaire behind INEOS Group – a multinational chemical company – was a fan of Defender before its restyling. In his favorite London pub, Ratcliffe mourned what he saw as the demise of the SUV.

“He was sorry for the fact that he couldn’t see the car he wanted to buy which would really tick all the boxes for him,” said Greg Clark, Executive Vice President of INEOS. “He happened to be sitting at The Grenadier in London, one of his favorite pubs – and all good ideas start with beer – sort of thinking, ‘Not only is this frustrating to me, but I also see a gap in the market. “

Clark spoke with The News & Observer from his home in Raleigh where he had just settled to oversee the North American launch of the beer-inspired Ratcliffe brainchild. Ineos Automotive will soon launch the “spiritual successor,” says Ratcliffe, to the original Land Rover Defender. It is called the Grenadier after the pub in which Ratcliffe lived.

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Greg Clark, Executive Vice President of INEOS Automotive, will oversee the company’s new headquarters in Raleigh. Courtesy of INEOS Automotive.

Clark said INEOS Automotive’s Raleigh headquarters will employ about 25 people by the end of 2022, and “40 to 50 in the next two years.” Manufacturing will begin in Europe, but the company eventually hopes to set up a second production facility in North America. Clark couldn’t confirm whether North Carolina was in contention over those plans.

“We’re still studying that in the background,” he said. “This is a different course of action for us which may involve North Carolina but may also include some other neighboring states.”

For its headquarters, INEOS Automotive looked at 12 locations, including Atlanta and Houston, before settling in Raleigh.

“Atlanta was attractive because of its size and also because Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are already headquartered there,” Clark said.

But Rallye was like a marketplace full of 4×4 enthusiasts.

“North Carolina always beats its weight in terms of sales and interest in 4×4s, and off-road vehicles,” Clark said. “…in my six months here, you know, you can’t take to the street without stumbling upon 4-Runners and Broncos and Wranglers and Land Cruisers. And so, being close to that customer, the target customer, was very fundamental.”

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INEOS founder Jim Ratcliffe wanted a vehicle with the utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing Land Rover original Defender. He decided to make it himself. Courtesy of INEOS Automotive

Wait, is this a Land Rover?

True to his mission, the Grenadier-Ratcliffe is easily mistaken for the original Land Rover Defender. It has all the trappings of the iconic design of the latter.

The two cars Land Rover took twice as much to stifle the production of the Grenadier.

“The controversy has been so intense in the UK that he has gone to the High Court twice,” said Clark, who worked at Land Rover as a brand manager before joining INEOS last year. “Land Rover actually claimed that the Grenadier missile was very similar to the guns.”

Despite its fierce protests, Land Rover lost the case and a subsequent appeal.

“You can’t copy a silhouette,” Clark said. “The car is boxy by its construction. You put an object on a frame, you move the wheels to the far corners, you create an interior space for passengers and make it useful, the car will be full of boxes.”

After overcoming legal opposition, INEOS is advancing plans to launch its line of vehicles by the end of 2022. Clark said the first batch will supply European markets, but Grenadiers will appear in the United States by 2023. After ramping up production, the company will manufacture about 35,000 vehicles a year, which will sell One third of it is in North America.

While other off-road vehicles are more prolific, none of them embody the Defender’s impenetrable elegance as well as the Grenadier, according to Ratcliffe.

“Nothing fills that niche of superior off-road capability, but also offers the kind of refinement for adults that someone like (Ratcliffe) or his peers or friends would expect,” Clark said.

Clark said the company has not announced a target price for the grenadier, but about 15,000 potential customers have joined the waiting list to buy one. The first several thousand trucks will feature a conventional gas-powered engine, but INEOS hopes to offer a range of electric vehicles in the coming years.

After producing a “traditional battery-powered electric vehicle,” Clark said, Ineos Automotive hopes to pioneer a hydrogen-based electrochemical platform. The company is investing $2.5 billion in hydrogen fuel cell research, which it believes will solve one of the electric car industry’s biggest shortcomings.

“[Our]regular client wants to go somewhere — hunting, shooting, fishing, hiking, to the Caribbean, and camping for a week,” Clark said. “You by nature don’t want to be constrained by a charging infrastructure, do you? This is where we feel the internal combustion engine and hydrogen fuel cells in the long run answer that question.”

To learn more about the Grenadier, or to book one, visit ineosgrenadier.com. An Ineos spokesperson said the company will sell its vehicles through area dealerships, but the company has yet to announce its retail partners.

This story was originally published April 22, 2022 9:25 am.

Lars Dolder is a business reporter for The News & Observer. Covers retail, technology and innovation.

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