A British billionaire industrialist has said he could create up to 10,000 jobs by manufacturing a new 4×4, based on the Land Rover Defender, in the UK.
The announcement comes as data revealed the UK’s manufacturing sector has moved up a spot in the global league table to become the eighth largest in the world.
Jim Ratcliffe, 64, the chief executive of Ineos, the petrochemicals conglomerate, announced his plans to develop an off-road vehicle last year, just months after the last Land Rover Defender was produced in Solihull.
Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), owned by the Indian firm Tata Motors, stopped making the Defender, which went into production in 1948, after claiming it could not meet increasingly tight safety and emissions regulations.
Mr. Ratcliffe, however, described it as “the world’s best off-road vehicle” and said its disappearance had left a “gaping hole in the automotive market”. His take on the vehicle could be completed by 2020, it is claimed.
The billionaire, who owns four Defenders, came up with a plan to revive the iconic British design in a pub “after the second pint” whilst bemoaning the demise of the 4×4 with friends.
Speaking at a launch event in the same pub Tuesday, reported by The Times, he denied it was a “pet project”, adding: “You don’t spend £600 million on a nostalgic dalliance.”
Mr. Ratcliffe claimed the vehicle would cost around £35,000 and said he was confident of selling about 25,000 a year, primarily in the U.S. and Europe. There would be diesel, petrol, and plug-in hybrid versions, he explained.
He hopes to build it in the UK in a new facility but says he has had offers from disused German plants where it could be done more cheaply. He urged the government to financially support the project to ensure it stay in the UK.
He insists that JLR “didn’t register the design of the Defender so don’t have any proprietary design or intellectual property”. JLR deny this, as they are working on their own new Defender model, with speculation that it could be launched by 2019.
A spokesman said: “We would argue that we have proprietary rights over the Defender as it is instantly recognised as a Land Rover, built by Land Rover over 67 years.
“It is one of the most recognisable vehicle shapes in history and it is inconceivable that the shape would be associated with any other company.
“Land Rover has a trademark application filed which has been accepted by the Intellectual Property Office for publication but the only opposition to this has been lodged by Ineos.”