Sir Jim Ratcliffe has confirmed that he is to build a new factory in south Wales for the final assembly of an off-road vehicle called the Grenadier.
The billionaire chairman of Ineos wants the 4×4, which was designed by Germans and will be powered by BMW engines, to be a replacement for the old-style Land Rover Defender much-loved by farmers and others who needed vehicles that could ride over rough terrain.
The factory will be in Bridgend, where Ford is closing an engine plant with the loss of 1,700 jobs. It will be less than 12 miles from a new factory that Aston Martin has created near Cardiff airport to build its 4×4, the DBX.
Ineos says that the new plant will create 200 jobs, rising to 500 in the long term. The vehicle will be mainly built in Portugal, with final assembly in Wales to start from 2021. There is talk of producing as many as 25,000 Grenadiers a year.
Vehicle manufacturing is a big switch away from the core business of Ineos, the giant chemicals company that is privately owned and has no automotive experience. The development of the Grenadier, named after the London pub in which the idea was conceived, is very much a pet project of Sir Jim, who is said to be worth £18 billion.
Ineos, which has annual revenues of $60 billion, was born out of the private equity investment amid the sell-off of the British chemicals industry, created from the sale of the chemicals division of BP and augmented by acquisitions including assets from the break-up of ICI.
Sir Jim, 66, was a director of Advent, the American private equity house that has been in the news recently for its stalled takeover of Cobham, the defence supplier. Alongside other captains of British industry, such as Lord Bamford, of JCB, and Sir James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner magnate, Sir Jim is an outspoken supporter of Brexit.
News of the decision to open a factory in Wales is respite for a UK automotive industry reeling from the closures of Ford Bridgend and the Honda carmaking plant in Swindon, 6,000 redundancies at Jaguar Land Rover and thousands more job losses elsewhere.
Ineos said that it would be spending £600 million bringing the Grenadier to market, although it will be receiving hefty, as-yet-undisclosed, subsidies from the Welsh government, which is supporting the project.
In April Jaguar Land Rover said that it would build its next generation Defender — with a price tag of £40,000 — in Slovakia. Sir Jim has said that the Grenadier would be truer to the old Land Rover. He had rejected doing final assembly overseas and said: “The decision to build in the UK is a significant expression of confidence in British manufacturing.”
Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, said that the announcement was “evidence that the UK is the best place to develop the latest automotive technologies”.