Channelling an older, more illustrious vehicle, Ineos Automotive have shown first images of their upcoming Grenadier. Haven’t we seen you somewhere before?
“And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountain green?”
Classy yet classless. Both of the land, yet above it, the Land Rover Defender, within these islands at least, inhabits its own unique orbit. It’s a name which elicits certain qualities – of no-nonsense, robust self sufficiency, of capable and practical professionals, like country vets, tree surgeons, utility providers, coastguards. That’s certainly the image its makers chose to project, speaking to fond notions of national identity, everyday heroism, practicality and fundamental decency which have been enduring traits of that increasingly peculiar country collectively called Britain.
In production for the best part of 70 years, although it has in fact been refashioned many times, the Landie, over its lengthy and productive life has become a potent symbol of something inviolate, unchangeable – like Dover’s White Cliffs. So much so that in today’s febrile shared-media landscape, vehicles like the original Defender are fetishised – raised aloft and hailed as archetypes – images of authenticity amid a world increasingly laced with fakery and contrivance.
Into this environment landed a new LR Defender last Autumn, the culmination of hundreds of millions of pounds, much all-terrain proving, and a good deal of soul-searching on the part of its creators, but amidst those who worship at the altar of true belief, it’s a travesty, a sell-out, a stark betrayal. But whatever the rights and wrongs of the Defender as currently reconstituted, JLR have brought it to market with the twin aims of selling enough to make a profit – which ought to be the point of the exercise – alongside fulfilling the brief to create a viable halo product.
Freighted with images of old Albion, possessed of an intrepid, go-anywhere capability, a little jerry-built here and there and prone to leaving you in the lurch on occasion, yet easily sorted and decent company if you can put up with the noise, the punishing ride and the lack of creature comfort, the outgone Defender was not only a vehicle of charm, considerable character, and undoubted offroad capability, but perhaps an equally plangent metaphor of nationhood and identity.
Enter Sir Jim Ratcliffe: knight of the Realm, Monaco-domiciled billionaire, Vote Leave supporter and ur-Defender aficionado. So much so, he attempted to purchase the tooling from Land Rover upon the original car’s 2015 retirement. No dice. JLR, highly protective of the Defender’s iconography had plans of their own, not to mention a £ multi-million investment in their heritage centre, restoration and modification business – Land Rover Classic.
Not the sort of individual to take this snub lying down, Ratcliffe elected to build his own version from scratch, along broadly similar lines. So similar in fact, that JLR sought legal recourse to prevent Ineos from proceeding. Land Rover subsequently lost the ensuing case, the UK’s intellectual property office ruling that the carmaker didn’t have exclusive rights to the Defender silhouette, itself a somewhat generic 4×4 shape, shared with several other products of a similar nature. But according to Automotive News, JLR have successfully trademarked the Defender shape in the US and elsewhere.
On July 1, Ineos Automotive showed the first CGI images of the vehicle, dubbed Grenadier, so called because the idea is said to have formulated in the pub of the same name in London’s Belgravia. As shown, the Grenadier cleaves faithfully to the original Defender template – so faithfully indeed that to the untrained eye it appears to be something more akin to a Chinese copy. Technically too, it’s all back to the 1940s, with a ladder frame chassis, and live axle suspension front and rear; the primary concession to modernity being the use of contemporary BMW-sourced engines and automatic transmissions.
Intended to go on sale at the end of 2021, Ineos Automotive representatives, speaking with the assuredly compliant Steve Cropley for Autocar, rationalised showing the car now, so far from the on-sale date, so that they could carry out the remainder of the vehicle proving “in plain sight“; this despite the fact that most carmakers seem to manage quite well with some suitably lurid bodywrap. For this virtual unveiling, only the exterior design was shown, the cabin design still being “finalised”, a mere 18 months from production – which augers well for lead-times.
Stated pricing they say is to to be from “around £40,000“, climbing one assumes somewhat precipitously from there. Ineos Automotive CEO, former chemical engineer, Dirk Heilmann asserts that the Grenadier programme will make a profit with projected annual sales, (once production is fully ramped up), of 25,000 Grenadiers per annum.
This sounds somewhat dubious, given that this was roughly the level of custom Land Rover were enjoying with the outgoing Defender before the plug was pulled. And amid the protracted hand-wringing over its in-house replacement, the strong argument against making the new Defender along broadly similar conceptual lines was the lack of a viable business case, raising questions as to how Ineos (a business with no track record in carmaking) plans to achieve what JLR, a vastly experienced player could not.
Further questions arise. Where is the future proofing for a rapidly approaching post C-19 legislative environment where at least some form of electrification will be mandated? What of type-approval – crash testing? Who will sell this vehicle, or maintain it? Where are these sales to come from if JLR has successfully protected the Defender shape in the US? There is also a question of provenance. For many in this section of the market, heritage counts for a great deal. The Land Rover’s reputation was forged over almost seven decades, proving itself to be one of the most rugged and capable off-roaders available off the peg. Ineos who, and how much did you say?
But aside from the foregoing, this week another dimension to the unfolding tale emerged. Having reportedly started groundwork on a site in Bridgend, Wales, Ineos announced that they are now considering obtaining the soon to be shuttered Smart car plant in Moselle in Eastern France. This turnkey factory, which is redundant owing to Smart production being shifted Chinawards, comes with the advantage of allowing production of the Grenadier chassis and body in one place. And with powertrains and suspensions arriving from Germany and Italy respectively, the case for having a site in tariff-free mainland Europe looks increasingly compelling, especially given the likely outcome of the still-disputed Brexit settlement.
Dirk Heilman was keen to defend the move, pointing out that social distancing measures were having a negative impact on the works in Bridgend. But aren’t they everywhere, even in Moselle? Meanwhile, the First Minister told news outlets that the Welsh government remain in talks with Ineos over securing the 500 direct jobs the plant would bring to the region. And so the wheel turns.
It’s almost impossible to maintain an impartial stance amidst this unfolding saga. Even without the latest twist, can we truly take Ineos and the Grenadier at face value? Even if this is a serious venture (and the jury remains out on that) what in heavens is the point? To underline how the new Defender just isn’t Land Roverey enough? Simply because he can? The whole thing shrieks of self-regard and vainglory. A passionate supporter for an independent Britain, isn’t Mr Ratcliffe’s Ineos effectively undermining one of the country’s key employers and exporters by seemingly co-opting their defining design?
Bravely unfurling the national flag, the Grenadier is to have its chassis built in Portugal (pending events one imagines), its engines in Germany, its suspension in Italy, much of its chassis engineering at Magna Steyr in Austria and as it now seems, (again provisionally) assembly in Lorraine. And all to achieve fruition in 18 months time. Still, self-adhesive Union Jacks will be no doubt be available for purchase. The people at Gaydon must be watching this with tremendous interest, and grim amusement.
“Bring me my bow of burning gold! Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem In England’s green and pleasant land.”
Because if Land Rover’s Defender can be understood as something akin to the UK’s automotive Jerusalem, the Grenadier too can be read in metaphorical terms: Brexit incarnate. Welcome to Global Britain.
Jerusalem: William Blake.