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A Rugged Newcomer Looks to Fill a Void Left by Land Rover

HAMBACH, France — After a 33-year production run, the last original Land Rover Defender was built in 2016, ending a rugged-yet-refined era for off-road pursuits. Jaguar Land Rover, owned by Tata Motors, part of an Indian conglomerate, shifted its focus to luxury and technology with plans for a new 4×4, also named Defender but disconnected from its predecessors.

A year later, Jim Ratcliffe, a British billionaire and longtime fan of Land Rover’s old Defender, sensed an opportunity, hatching his plan for what he called “a spiritual successor” to the vehicle of choice for exploration and safaris. As the chief executive of the INEOS Group, a British conglomerate, Mr. Ratcliffe had a unique ability to act, lining up a senior team of automotive professionals to bring his vision to life: a new workhorse 4×4. In a 2017 interview, he said he wanted to preserve the Defender’s boxy, military-style ruggedness.

This year, INEOS Automotive is bringing out the Grenadier.

Although some styling cues might bring to mind the former Defender, INEOS Automotive maintains that the Grenadier is uniquely designed and built. Land Rover, while clear about its path away from its utilitarian Defender, “continues to contest our right to sell the Grenadier,” said Greg Clark, executive vice president for the Americas at INEOS Automotive, but the legal challenges have not been successful.

Over two million Land Rovers were built from 1948 to 2016, under different model names. The Defender’s legacy started with the Land Rover 110, which was offered from 1983 to 1991, when it was assigned the Defender name. Its design and abilities turned some notable heads, and famous owners have reportedly included Fidel Castro, Queen Elizabeth II and Bill Murray (although the United States got the Defender 110 for only one year, 1993, said Jeff Aronson, editor of Rovers Magazine).

The Grenadier is a utilitarian throwback with modern touches, mechanical where it can be but electronic wherever necessary. Fewer engine control units equal more simplicity. Although gasoline and diesel prototypes are being produced, hydrogen and all-electric options are possible. At its introduction this summer, North America will receive only the gasoline Grenadier.

Jim Ratcliffe, a longtime fan of Land Rover’s old Defender, with a prototype of his Grenadier.Credit…INEOS Automotive

“For the customer who wishes to get off the grid, an E.V. powertrain is incongruous with the Grenadier’s positioning in today’s world,” Mr. Clark said. “Given the size, construction and capability of the Grenadier, it would likely require an untenable amount of battery weight to provide the customer with a range adequate to not cause anxiety and still be usable and attractive for off-road expeditions.”

That pragmatism and raw capability, “combined with the straightforward nature of our sales process, form core tenets of our commitment to our target customer,” Mr. Clark said.

Customers are responding. INEOS says that it has 15,000 orders, ahead of company forecasts, and that one-third are for the American market. INEOS recently bought a Mercedes-Benz Smart car factory in Hambach, France, and intends for Grenadiers to roll off the line by July. The goal is to build 25,000 to 30,000 a year.

While ambitious for an upstart, it’s a fraction of what is sold by the American off-road king: Jeep, which has 80 years of history and sold 204,610 Wrangler 4x4s last year.

“We’re expecting the U.S. to be one of our biggest markets, if not the biggest,” said Donna Falconer, the global head of product at INEOS Automotive.

“Someone once said to me, ‘Trying to sell a pickup in the U.S., the home of the pickup, is like trying to sell espresso to the Italians,’” Ms. Falconer said. “We know we’ve got our work in convincing people we’ve got a worthy vehicle.”

Before INEOS announced the Grenadier’s interior, it tested the cockpit’s design with U.S. focus groups in early 2021. “When you look at our aspiration versus the size of the North American market, we’re a drop in the ocean, and that’s OK,” Ms. Falconer said.

Focus groups included serious off-roaders and S.U.V. and pickup truck owners, to understand the features that people prefer.

“We talk about this work-play access or continuum,” Ms. Falconer said, “or tool and toy — two extremes.” Customers may use their vehicle as a tool to do their job. “They may be farmers. They may be tree surgeons,” she said. “They may be mountain rescue, you know?”

On the other hand, she highlighted the off-road enthusiast: “Four-by-fouring is their hobby. It needs to be super cool, super capable and so on.”

In the middle is the lifestyle consumer. “We’re not targeting the image lifestyle people, but we’ll probably get some,” Ms. Falconer said. “The adventure lifestylist, people that actually get out there.”

To Ms. Falconer, this segment may be only weekend warriors but will be mountain biking, mountaineering, kayaking, skiing and more. “They need a vehicle that can get them and their kit there,” she said. “With that,” she went on, “we’re going to be a niche player, probably a little bit of a boutique unusual choice.”

In the 2017 interview, at the Grenadier pub in London, Mr. Ratcliffe said Jaguar’s decision to end the original Defender “had left quite a hole in the marketplace.” He criticized contemporary S.U.V.s as “jelly molds” that all look alike.

Mr. Clark touched on the company’s early plans. “As for any newcomer, building brand equity, fostering consideration and delivering on promises are the key ingredients of a successful start,” he said. His goal is to keep in touch with reservation holders to build their trust.

Mr. Clark mentioned the big-name competition: the Ford Bronco, the Wrangler, Toyota’s 4Runner. “However, as adjacent competitors we of course consider the Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Defender and, to a lesser degree in this generation, the Mercedes G-Wagen,” he said. It will be a crowded and competitive market, but INEOS is confident in its niche.

U.S. focus groups yielded interesting results, Ms. Falconer said. “What we found was that anybody who owned an old Defender just loved us,” she said. “They thought what we were doing was great.”

She also acknowledged that Jeep buyers were deeply loyal. “Challenges are price point, loyal customers to other brands and getting them to take a risk with us,” she said. The Grenadier’s price point remains unknown because of market instability created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, inflation, supply chain issues and more, but chief rivals start at $50,000.

INEOS bought a Smart car factory in Hambach, France, and intends to build 25,000 Grenadiers or more each year.Credit…INEOS Automotive

The company so far has 100 sales and service partners lined up, as well as retail finance partners and parts distributors.

The company’s sales model is diversified. “We have a combination of direct sales and agencies in Europe,” said Mark Tennant, commercial director at INEOS Automotive. (Think Tesla.) Farther-flung markets will have more traditional dealerships. Those in America are set to be backed up by Bosch Car Service, with 17,000 outlets globally.

“If you’re building an uncompromising 4×4 for the world,” Mr. Tennant said, “you need to make sure customers are confident to take that vehicle — their vehicle— wherever they will with confidence they’re going to get parts and get the vehicle fixed.”

Ms. Falconer emphasized this part of the experience for buyers.

“We’ve got to nail the ‘back of house,’” she said. “How do we sort people out when they need things fixed? That’s where you can really trip up. We need to ensure those stories of the earlier adopters on that front are positive.”

Once the vehicles start rolling, INEOS has a “clear and attainable path toward profitability,” Mr. Clark said. “We’re committed to ensuring our retail partners are also profitable — a solid foundation for ensuring that customer service and community support are delivered.”

Hydrogen and all-electric Grenadiers are already in development, with a hydrogen fuel-cell prototype set for road testing by the end of the year. Additionally, a four-door crew-cab pickup truck is projected for 2023.

Final pricing for North America won’t be announced until later this year; however, full specifications are expected in April. The first Grenadiers are due to hit U.S. soil in 2023.

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