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July 5, 2020

Pissed Off Billionaire Plans to Sell You a Modernized, Uncompromising Land Rover Defender Lookalike

Ineos. If the name reads familiar, you probably know it as the brand splattered on the air scoop of the Mercedes-AMG F1 car as well as on the sleeves of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. They also happen to be one of the world’s largest petrochemical companies. And now, they’re entering into the automobile business as well.

Based in the U.K., Ineos is headed by its chairman, Jim Ratcliffe. He’s one of Britain’s richest men and a big fan of the classic Defender. So, when Jaguar Land Rover announced that they were ceasing production of its utilitarian off-roader, Ratcliffe does what other rich men do: offer to buy the production tooling. Of course, JLR said no; and in a move that echoes something Richard Branson or even Elon Musk would do—he decided, fuck it, I’m making my own Defender-ish SUV.

The result is the Ineos Grenadier, a boxy rugged-looking, midsized 4x4 whose size and shape is a near copy of the classic Land Rover Defender 110, though in reality, it shares no parts with Land Rover’s iconic SUV.

Aimed at the same market as the old Defender—adventurers, sportsmen, builders, and farmers, the Grenadier is built on a new platform. This, according to Ineos will help them build a “truly uncompromising 4x4 built from the ground up providing best-in-class off-road capability, durability, and reliability.”

Unlike some other newcomers to the auto industry, Ineos and Ratcliffe doesn’t have to worry about raising capital to fund the USD 1 billion Grenadier project. The Ineos Group booked USD 61 billion in global sales last year and employs 23,000 people.

Ineos’ financial heft enabled the company to hire many of the industry’s top suppliers and write whatever checks were needed to fast-track the Grenadier to production. Magna Steyr in Austria is handling the Grenadier’s body engineering. MBTech, a German company partially owned by Daimler, is doing much of the product development work. BMW will provide gasoline and diesel engines. The rugged steel frame comes from the same supplier that builds the Toyota Land Cruiser’s frame.

For all its engineering prowess though, it’s the looks that has people talking.

The Grenadier has the same boxy silhouette as the classic Defender 110. The grille, with its two round headlights; the body side, with its distinctive shoulder line; the upright, flat windshield; and the roof, with its four "Alpine" windows, all look extremely similar to those on the classic Defender.

Ineos decided to debut the production-intent model now because it wants to test the vehicles free of camouflage and also create a little buzz among potential customers pining for the old Defender. But showing the final design now might also have a legal angle. If JLR sues, a legal dispute could be settled by the time the Grenadier goes on sale.

JLR has fought to protect its intellectual property. In recent years, it won a lawsuit in China against an automaker that was building a compact SUV virtually indistinguishable from the Range Rover Evoque.

When JLR learned Ineos was planning to build a vehicle similar to the classic Defender, company lawyers moved to trademark its shape. But a judge in Britain’s Intellectual Property Office denied JLR’s request, reasoning that the Defender’s shape was not much different from other off-road vehicles. JLR is appealing that decision and has moved to protect the Defender’s shape in other markets.

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