Land Rover Defender’s Spirit Set to Be Revived by Chemical Maker

  • Swiss-based Ineos aims to build SUV in post-Brexit Britain
  • ‘We’re going to be spending significantly’ on the off-roader

A row of Land Rover Defender automobiles sit on the inspection line at Tata Motors Ltd.'s Jaguar Land Rover vehicle manufacturing plant in Solihull, U.K., on Nov. 6, 2015.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

While the maker of the Land Rover Defender halted production of the storied British off-roader over a year ago, a company better known for chemical production is bankrolling an attempt at reviving the rugged model’s heritage.

Ineos Group Holdings SA, a chemical company based in Rolle, Switzerland, is developing a vehicle that it says is inspired by the old Defender, offering solace to farmers, adventurers and motorheads. After conducting a six-month feasibility study, Ineos says its SUV will be able to meet the environmental and safety regulations that led to the downfall of the old model, while remaining affordable, with a price tag of around 50,000 pounds ($63,000). The goal is to produce 15,000 to 20,000 cars a year and build the model in the U.K.

“We’re ramping up the team, ramping up the spend,” Tom Crotty, a director for privately held Ineos, said in a telephone interview. “We’re going to be spending significantly large amounts of money as we go through the next 12 months with an aim to get a vehicle in production and in the market by about 2020.”

Jaguar Land Rover, a unit of India’s Tata Motors Ltd., ceased production of the Defender after nearly 70 years as the car struggled to meet modern demands. The vehicle’s carbon-dioxide emissions were twice the European fleet standard, while its raw metal surfaces and lack of airbags made complying with safety requirements difficult. But that unpolished allure meant it was much loved by motoring purists, rural estate owners and even Queen Elizabeth II.

Bringing a new car to market is no easy task. In addition to developing and testing the vehicle, it requires a factory, a distribution network and service centers. Recent ventures such as Fisker Automotive and Chinese-owned Qoros as well as attempts to resurrect Swedish car brand Saab failed to live up to expectations. Ineos’s proposal is made more difficult by its plans to produce the vehicle in Britain after the country’s decision to leave the European Union threatens new tariffs and shocks to manufacturing supply chains.

A free trade deal with the EU “is not a make-or-break” for the Ineos Defender, said Crotty. Jim Ratcliffe, the company’s billionaire chairman who is also overseeing the company’s plans to extract shale gas in Scotland and the north of England, advocated for the U.K. to leave the trade bloc.

“Post-Brexit Britain is still going to be buying Mercedes, BMWs and Volkswagens just as hungry as they were in pre-Brexit Britain,” Crotty said.

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