Land Rover is taking so long to replace its iconic Defender that someone else is planning to do it first.
Privately owned Swiss chemical giant Ineos insists that the disappearance of the British off-roader in 2016 has left a gap in the market it intends to plug.
Land Rover has promised to replace the Defender and has been showing concept cars at motor shows around the world for at least five years but it hasn’t given a firm production date for the new version.
Ineos has never built a concept car before, much less a production car, but it is a world leader in controversial fracking techniques and it does have oil and biodiesel refineries to provide the oil that would inevitably leak out of every orifice of a new “Defender”.
That’s a far cry from the history of Land Rover, which began building the Defender’s forerunner in 1948 and its direct children, the 90 and 110, in 1983.
But Ineos told The Guardian newspaper that it was ready to invest “many hundreds of millions” of pounds to develop a new hard-core off-road 4×4 to replace the Defender.
“We want to build the world’s purest 4×4 and are aiming it at explorers, farmers and off-road enthusiasts across the globe,” Ineos chairman and 60% stakeholder Jim Ratcliffe said.
It plans to use an established diesel powertrain, though there is no announcement on which powertrain it might use. It is said to prefer a manufacturing plant in northern England.
Ineos has held talks with Land Rover to take over the stamping and tooling for the Defender, but they have not gone anywhere. Unperturbed, Ratcliffe insists the Defender’s age rules out any copyright claims Land Rover might have to the design, although it seems Landy’s lawyers are having none of that.
Ineos insists it will not directly copy the design of the Land Rover, which saw resale values leap around the world after its demise in 2016, but will use its simplistic philosophy.
It wants to move past the Defender’s sometimes iffy reputation for reliability, insisting it will “provide a step change improvement in build quality and reliability”.
“This is an amazing project for everyone involved,” said CEO of Ineos Automotive Dirk Heilmann.
“Our job is to create the world’s best 4×4 and we are already moving forward with our plans.”
Heilmann has no expertise in vehicle design, engineering or manufacture, having moved into the position after being Ineos’s head of engineering and technology. He is recruiting from Europe’s car makers. The fracking technology experts did a six-month feasibility study into the project and intend to sell it globally, aiming at forestry, farming, fishermen and adventurers as well as Defender owners who “enjoy an authentic 4×4 driving experience”.
“I am a great admirer of the old Land Rover Defender and have enormous respect for its off-road capability,” said Ratcliffe. “Our new 4×4 has been inspired by it. But while our off-roader might share its spirit, our car will be a major improvement on previous models.”
While the Defender badge was stuck on the Land Rover in 1990, the original Land Rover appeared after the Second World War, when the Willys Jeep proved the need for an all-weather, all-road, all-wheel drive. Land Rover ended production after building more than 2-million Defenders. Jaguar Land Rover now has a heritage division at Solihull, England, which restores old Defenders. – Mark Smyth