German engineering firm MBtech, which is part-owned by Mercedes-Benz, has signed an agreement with Ineos of the Automobile to the engineer of his Land Rover Defender’s inspiration Projekt Grenadier SUV.
The technical tie-up will involve MBtech allocation of 200 full-time engineers to the project from its Stuttgart base. According to Ineos Automotive CEO Dirk Heilmann, the deal: “to unite German engineering and British design and entrepreneurship”.
Projekt Grenadier will produce a robust SUV that is in the spirit of the – but not diretly related to the original Defender.
Ineos, the Automobile, the car brand created by Jim Ratcliffe, CEO and founder of the multinational chemicals company Ineos, has the intention of revealing the first sketches of the car later this year. It is intended to finalize the car’s specification in mid-2018, with MBtech production of the first “mule vehicle” shortly after that, with a good following prototypes later this year. MBtech will be responsible for “working” the exact specifications of the vehicle to ensure that it is a “robust, reliable and no-compromise 4×4.”
Ineos Automotive plans for the Grenadier to go into production next year, with finished cars on the roads in 2020.
MBtech was founded in 1995 as a Mercedes-Benz Technologies, although the auto giant has sold 65% of shares of the company to AKKA Technologies in 2012. MBtech continues to work on multiple projects for Mercedes-Benz, and is also working with other companies. Under the agreement with Ineos, it is going to take the direction of the whole vehicle development of the Pomegranate, the supervision of all the components.
Ineos has made more than £43 billion in 2017, a £3.8 billion profit. It plans to invest around £700 million in a chosen site for Projekt Grenadier. Prior to the announcement of the MBtech deal – which refers only to the production of the test mules and the protoypes – an Ineos spokesman told Autocar that the announcement of the production is expected at the end of this year.
The company has previouly said that he is open to a number of possible solutions; it could share a facility with another company, convert a used plant or build a new one. “Originally we had said our desire is to build in the united KINGDOM, and it is always the case,” Ineos director Tom Crotty said Coach last year. But the company has also received a number of offers from European sites.
Ineos is always willing to start the production in the UK, despite the uncertainty in the automotive industry in the country after the brexit vote.
“We went into this decision with eyes wide open,” Crotty said when asked on “brexit” from the impact. “It doesn’t really have an impact. We believe that it is a project for the united KINGDOM, which would be hugely beneficial, after “brexit” because we would have to export 70% to 80% of the cars that we would do.”
Ineos is targeting sales of around 25 000 units per year. The company has already presented its vision for the 4×4 to be sold in the world, but particularly targeting the united states, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. Prices are set to remain close to those of the outgoing Defender, who has been at the cost of £25,000.
The car has been dubbed Projekt Grenadier, which is a reference to the Grenadier pub in Knightsbridge which is close to the Ineos board, and the plans for this Defender-inspired model were first discussed, according to Crotty. The German spelling of “project” is a nod to the nationality of Heilmann.
“We want the best quality of engineering under the skin of this vehicle, hence the wink in this direction,” Crotty said. “We want to remind all that what we are trying to do is take an uncompromising performance 4×4 with high levels of engineering.”
A large part of the design and powertrain options are still being decided, but Crotty said Coach last year that he is likely to have a diesel option, while the hybrid and electric technology is in the course of the study.
“We are looking at a range of options for powertrains,” he said. “The hybrid technology could be on the cards, particularly because it would be useful for the management of emissions, but we would like it to retain its off-road values.
“Pure EV is also a possibility. We are looking at any and have not closed it all off. I would be very surprised if a diesel option was not a part of that.”
Crotty has also confirmed that the SUV will have a traditional chassis, rather than on a monohull, and it will be a relatively low-tech, unlike Land Rover’s upcoming Defender replacement, which is due on sale in 2019.
“It will be of very high quality and extremely reliable,” Crotty added.
As for the style, Crotty, said the SUV will be “the spirit of the Defender”, but this will not be a look-alike. “This will not be an SUV that is modern,” he explained. “It’s going to be a lot more like an old style, very sturdy all-terrain.”
Ineos claims to be one of the largest manufacturers in the world, but this will be the first time that it is produced of a vehicle.
Crotty agreed that the project is a risk, but maintained that it had the full support of the company and the team was determined to make the car a profitable success.
“People probably think we are crazy because we are not in the automotive industry,” he said. “There are risks in everything you do, but we can manage this risk. We are manufacturers; we know what we are doing and we know that we need high quality from the people in the industry.”
Ratcliffe is a big fan of the Defender and has been behind the company’s move to make its own model.
“This is a fantastic and exciting project,” said Ratcliffe. “We want to build the world’s most pure 4×4 and aim to explorers, farmers and off-road enthusiasts around the world.”
Ineos has declared that “it is determined that the vehicle will not only fill a gap in the market vacated by the Defender, but also to provide a step change improvement to the quality of manufacture and reliability”.
Ratcliffe added: “I’m a big admirer of the former Defender and have a lot of respect for its off-road capabilities, and our new 4×4 was inspired by it. But, while our all-terrain and can share his spirit, our new car will be a major improvement on the previous models.”
Jaguar Land Rover is very protective of his Defender. In 2016, it has prevented a Canadian society for the use of the name of Defender for an all-terrain vehicle.
At the time, JLR legal boss Keith Benjamin said: “The Defender is an iconic vehicle which is part of JLR, the past, the present and the future. The success of our business is based on the unique design and engineering attributes, and we intend to protect the brand, a robust everywhere in the world.”
Ineos has informed JLR plans. Crotty said there is no conflict between the two parties, and that JLR’s response was “neutral”. “There has been no major falls – just sensible conversation,” he said.
“We are not to produce a copy of; we are to produce a new vehicle which is to fill a space that the Defender used to fill.”
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