No-nonsense 4×4 staples like the Toyota LandCruiser 70 and Mercedes-Benz G Professional are about to get some competition from a brand new Brit called the Ineos Grenadier, the exterior of which was revealed today after a long-running teaser campaign.
The old Land Rover Defender lookalike will be sold as a body-on-frame 4×4 wagon and dual-cab pickup with low-range gearing, multiple diff locks, retuned BMW inline-six engines, and stripped-back off-road suspension, “designed and built to handle the world’s harshest environments”.
It’ll be made in Wales, and is set for a 2022 launch starting in Europe before branching out across the world to markets including Africa and Australia, where demand for stripped-back 4x4s that don’t break is particularly high. The goal is LandCruiser 70 Series pricing.
“A working tool for farmers, foresters, explorers and aid workers,” goes the tagline. A slide talks about needing to cater to NGOs, government agencies, construction businesses, farmers, adventure operators, boat owners, off-road enthusiasts and petrol-heads alike.
“We wanted to make sure users in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Australia would see absolutely that the vehicle was for them, and that they weren’t an afterthought,” a company executive added.
The Grenadier project is the brainchild of Jim Ratcliffe, the British billionaire engineer and chairman of multinational petrochemical giant Ineos.
The official story says that Ratcliffe was hanging out in London’s Grenadier pub in 2017, bemoaning Land Rover’s decision to kill the rugged old Defender and replace it with the more modern and luxurious new model that could meet modern safety and emissions tests more easily.
Being a bloke worth an estimated $22 billion, he decided to investigate the feasibility of producing a successor. The project was greenlit, the vehicle designed, and now it’s about to undergo 1.8 million kilometres of global testing led by Magna Steyr, which incidentally builds the G-Class and Toyota Supra among other cars.
“The Grenadier project started by identifying a gap in the market, abandoned by a number of manufacturers, for a utilitarian off-road vehicle,” Ratcliffe said.
“This gave us our engineering blueprint for a capable, durable and reliable 4×4 built to handle the world’s harshest environments. But it had to look the part as well. As you will see today, [the team] have done a great job in delivering a design that is both distinctive and purposeful.”
According to Ineos Automotive CEO Dirk Heilmann, the main reason the company has whipped off the covers is that it can test the car without bothering to use camouflage.
“Showing the design now allows us to focus on the critical next phase of the vehicle’s development, testing its capability and durability. We have a very challenging programme ahead, as we put prototypes through their paces in all conditions,” goes the company line.
“From today the covers are off. Testing ‘in plain sight’ without the need for camouflage wrapping, foam blocks or fake panels is an added benefit.”
Let’s be honest: it looks like a Defender knockoff on first impression. The round lights, bonnet, front guards, raising roof, side profile. Both the wagon and dual-cab pickup are pure Land Rover.
The obvious question to ask Heilmann was if he was preparing for any litigation from Land Rover.
“There’s lots of cues to the G Wagen too, it’s not just Land Rover. We feel it looks fresh, not dated. It is a ground up, newly engineered and designed vehicle so I don’t expect any issues,” he answered.
Ineos claims that the Grenadier has been designed as “a blank canvas for accessories”, so the likes of ARB and Ironman better get ready…
“A wide range of accessories will be available, but we also want Grenadier owners to incorporate their existing kit into their new vehicle, and for third-party producers to develop a range of compatible accessories,” the company says.
The Grenadier clearly has strong bash plates, front hook points, plastic straps protecting the doors, short overhangs, and lots of clearance. The bonnet and doors are made of aluminium, the rest of heavier but tougher steel.
You’ll also notice small Union Jack and German flags juxtaposed near the front door hinges, reflecting where the car is being made, and the home of its engineering. Sir Ratcliffe is reported to be a prominent supporter of Brexit, but clearly still appreciates international input.
A box-section ladder frame up 4mm thick walls will feature – no monocoque here.
The Grenadier will have beam axles front and rear made by Italy’s Carraro, supplier to tractor-makers John Deere and Massey Ferguson. They’ll support multi-link suspension with separate long-travel Eibach coils and ZF dampers, and panhard rods.
There’ll also be permanent 4×4 rather than part-time, a mechanical transfer case for low-range, and diff locks front, centre and rear. Payload must be at least a tonne before the road cars are signed off, and the towing capacity target is 3.5-tonnes.
Engines will be supplied by BMW. Both are 3.0-litre inline-six cylinder donks, one that runs on petrol and the other on diesel. They’re codenamed B57 and B58 if you want to head to Wikipedia for more.
Both will be linked up to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission as the sole choice – a key difference from the manual-only LandCruiser 70 and old Defender. The rationale is that fleet buyers want everybody to be able to drive their vehicles, and fewer people these days can drive three-pedal cars.
“These engine are bang up to date. They’re sophisticated but they also proven to be reliable and durable,” said Heilmann.
“Having to fulfil [emissions] regulations, the vehicle cannot be from the stone age,” he added. “And we will map the vehicle to be even more durable, because we don’t need high speed. Particularly the gearbox.
“They’re actually quite low-maintenance engines… we have a blank sheet of paper when it comes to how we service and maintain.”
You can expect the Ineos applications of the these engines to be detuned over the BMW versions. In diesel form the BMW application makes up to 294kW/760Nm, and the petrol up to 375kW/600Nm, with the trade-off being a higher state of tune that could affect long-term durability without consistent maintenance.
There’ll be no electrification to start with, though like most petrochemical companies Ineos is investing in hydrogen, which can be produced renewably but also as a byproduct from fossil-fuel extraction. So down the track a fuel-cell iteration could emerge, with its longer range, quick recharges, and lighter mechanicals compared to a BEV.
“Next generation, we are already looking at alternative propulsion, an electric motor is simple and reliable but the power supply is something that needs to catch up, and it also goes to payload,” Heilmann said.
“Hydrogen fuel-cell is very promising. Ineos is quite supportive of the hydrogen economy.”
The 1.8 million kilometres of testing being led by Magna will take place in northern Sweden, Iceland, Spain, and South Africa. Australia is being explored for dust-proofing and heat testing, but COVID-19 is throwing in some challenges around travel.
Ineos hasn’t revealed it, because it clearly isn’t finished. But it’s promised to make it “comfortable and modern”, yet able to be hosed down.
The commercial director Mark Tennant had some interesting thoughts, including a dig at the old Landie that we all know had dark-age ergonomics (the old elbow out the open-window trick comes to this writer’s mind).
“Yes we’re building a utilitarian vehicle that’s a tool, but who said that needs to be uncomfortable? You’ve got to have a comfortable seat, room for your elbows, connectivity and screens… the vehicle will be bang up to date with relevant technology, and safety systems that are non-negotiable and required for certification,” he said.
Heilmann divulged the following extra information: “When it comes to [our tie-in with] BMW the main focus is powertrain, the electrical architecture needs to speak Bavarian and is BMW derived, but when it comes to other systems eg iDrive, we won’t be as close-linked to BMW as the Supra is”.
So expect vinyl floors, a large touchscreen with maps and phone mirroring, safety systems supplied by the likes of Bosch (just a guess), and 21st century ergonomics.
Expensive suspension components, amortising a new factory, buying BMW and ZF drivetrains, contracting Magna Steyr, “doesn’t come cheap” says Tennant. And we can’t imagine Sir Ratcliffe became Britain’s richest man by funding loss-leaders.
However, “we’re not going to be up there with the G Wagen that has disappeared off into the stratosphere… I look at Wrangler, LandCruiser Troopie,” Tennant added.
“It cannot disappear into G Wagen pricing,” affirmed Heilmann.
In our minds, it’ll ideally need to sit between the Iveco Daily 4×4 at the top end and a 70 Series LandCruiser below, meaning something in the mid-$80,000 range. Honestly, that would be an achievement of note.
Given all the startup costs, we’d expect instead to see a price with six digits, but we just don’t know.
Ineos is working on which sales model to use, and is understood to be leaning towards using online configurators supported by some brick-and-mortar sites, though whether they’re franchises, in-house, or an ‘agency model’ compromise, remains unclear.
It will need to discuss repairs with third-party service sites that have a presence in remote areas, and says “service is the first thing you’ll hear from us, we need to overcome perceptions”.
There’s a huge mountain to climb, but this is pretty cool, don’t you think?
You can follow the developing Ineos Grenadier story here.