Last year we covered UK billionaire Jim Ratcliffe and his scheme to build Defender look-alike 4x4’s. The founder of giant UK chemicals group Ineos wanted to build Defenders with Auntie Rover’s blessing, but that was not forthcoming. Now some months later, Ratcliffe is back and says he is planning to move forward, if on a slightly different tack.
Land Rover initially rejected the bid based on their intent to use the Defender name for the next model and also to avoid undermining their own market or diluting their brand. At which point Ratcliffe retreated, and our hopes for a Defender revival were dashed up on the staid and boring rocks of trademark protection law.
Ratcliffe has just this week gone public with a new plan, which is to produce a unique 4x4 vehicle that fills the market niche vacated when Land Rover stopped producing the iconic Defender in early 2016. Ratcliffe makes no secret of his admiration for the Defender. While his company’s focus is on the chemical, oil, and gas industries, he hopes to draw on Ineos’ power base as one of the UK’s largest manufacturers. Like his counterpart at Land Rover, CEO Raif Speth, Ratcliffe is also a firm believer in the importance of growing the UK’s manufacturing sector. An Ineos spokesperson said, “We are committed to qualify for UK manufacturing. Jim has a real passion and belief that we [the UK] have lost a lot of the manufacturing bases. That is not a good thing long-term for any country."
The vehicles would sell for less than £50,000 and be manufactured in the UK, with potential to create up to 1,000 jobs if all goes well.
The company is focused on manufacturing and distributing chemicals, oil and gas, but Ratcliffe says that he is a “great admirer of the old Land Rover Defender” and has “enormous respect for its off road capability”.
He then adds, in what may be perceived as a bit a of a jab at JLR, “Our new 4x4 has been inspired by it. But while our off-roader might share its spirit, our new car will be a major improvement on previous models.”
Please allow me, if I may, to editorialize a bit. While I am eager to see what Ineos comes up with, one has to question if simply building a Defender-ish vehicle that has similar capabilities along with some basic improvements is really enough to be successful in a sustainable way. Others have tried; just look at Santana, now defunct. There is also strong competition from Toyota and other companies that Land Rover could never shake off.
The Defender’s popularity and desirability has spiked in the last year now that the supply of them has become finite. But for most Land Rover owners that I know, there is just something about Green Oval vehicles that can’t, and won’t, ever be able to reproduced on a pantograph. There is a character and a history that pervade the ownership experience, a camaraderie with other owners, and a unique driving position and feel that will be difficult to bundle up into a vehicle that, when it comes down to it, just *isn’t* a Land Rover.
No matter if it’s made in the UK or anywhere else. Character and brand identity such as those possessed by Land Rover can’t be obtained or achieved overnight. Whatever Ineos comes out with will have to build on its Land-Rover-inspired form and function in order to be successful for the long haul.
I’ve saved the best question for last. “Can you even get parts for that thing?
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