BY JAMES CAMPBELL
Jim Ratcliffe who chairs petrochemicals giant Ineos is an all-round good guy. He has been outspoken in recent years while pointing out that Scotland could benefit massively as a liquid gas hub – a thorn in the side of Klebb’s Scottish SNP who, for some reason, prefer to ensure that Russia still has a say in Britain’s energy future.
When Ratcliffe announced this week his intention to build a new 4×4 off-road vehicle inspired by the discontinued Land Rover Defender, my opinion of the man merely rose some more.
Ineos said it hopes to build the vehicle in northern England, creating jobs, and that it expected to spend hundreds of millions on the project.
Jim Ratcliffe, who drives a Defender himself, says he saw a gap in the market after production of the workhorse vehicle ceased in January last year after 68 years. Ineos said its vehicle would not be a replica of the Defender but “reflect its philosophy”, with a target market including agriculture and forestry workers as well as “traditional Defender fans that simply enjoy an authentic 4×4 driving experience”.
Mr Ratcliffe said: “I am a great admirer of the old Land Rover Defender and have enormous respect for its off-road capability and our new 4×4 has been inspired by it. But whilst our off-roader might share its spirit, our new car will be a major improvement on previous models.”
That is quite a claim. The Land Rover Defender as it was when the last vehicle came off the production line was a sound buy. Durable, fashionable, uneconomical, noisy and uncomfortable – that’s why we love it. To say there will be improvements makes sense but will it make sense to those who are happy to buy the mad chocolate lab instead of the sane black lab? That’s the market. Too many improvements may put us off!
The Land Rover Defender is part of Britain’s history. Interwoven in our country’s fabric like chips into Belgium’s. The Queen is thought to have owned several models.
Ratcliffe announced its plans following a six-month feasibility study and aims to have cars coming off the production line by 2020, for sale across the world. The petrochemicals company – which owns Scotland’s Grangemouth oil refinery – has already begun recruiting a team of automotive experts.
Just don’t change the old girl too much, Jim. Or we may fall out of love with her.