Things are not going well for this Ineos Grenadier
An automotive story in four acts.
An automotive story in four acts.
When I mention Ineos Grenadiers, you’re probably thinking about the cycling team. Your mind likely travels to the exploits of Thomas, Bernal, Van Baarle, Geoghegan Hart – a well-resourced squad of elite cyclists, trying to figure out how to work their way back to their previously dominant position in the peloton.
Ask a car-enthusiast about Ineos Grenadiers, and they’re likely to have a very different answer. For them, it is the plural of a specific car – the Ineos Grenadier, naturally – which the team takes its name from, which takes its name from the team-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s favourite pub. The team sponsorship was announced in August 2020, with a press release touting Ratcliffe’s desire to promote “a highly capable, hard-working 4X4 vehicle, that was” – and I quote – “built on purpose.” (Accidentally-built cars seldom work well, in my experience).
The Ineos Grenadiers (🚴) have had a bit of a difficult 2022, failing to win a Grand Tour for the first time since 2014. The Ineos Grenadier (🚙) had a rough one too, hemorrhaging money to the pre-tax tune of -€212m, taking its total losses to -€506m.
Granted, company-owner Jim Ratcliffe has quite a lot of money to spare – he’s Britain’s richest man, with a personal wealth estimated at £9.8 billion (€11.2 billion) – but seeing as the Ineos corporation loaned almost a billion euros to its automotive division last year, we’re not talking about insignificant sums.
So how are things going for the Ineos Grenadier? Not super well. Presenting an act in four parts:
First things first, how it looks.
It is derivative by design, borrowing heavily from the boxy styling of the Land Rover Defender – a move that saw Ineos hauled into the United Kingdom High Court to defend its appropriation. (Ineos won, mostly because Land Rover had never got around to trademarking the shape of the Defender, which is kind of on them.)
The fact that it’s a rip-off isn’t really in question, right up to the point that noted Land Rover-enthusiast Ratcliffe even tried to buy the rights to the Defender, then reportedly designed the Grenadier when Land Rover declined. This is not what I would call a moral victory.
That obstacle clumsily cleared, we move to whether you can actually buy one.
Reader, you cannot. The launch date has been and gone, several times. At first, they shot for 2021. Then they shot for early 2022. Now, they are taking pre-orders and have a digital brochure, and might be able to start production later this year. I am reliably informed that you cannot drive a PDF.
[Update: An Ineos spokesperson has told CyclingTips that prototypes are currently in Australia; production is expected to begin “in a couple of weeks”, with the first customer deliveries due at the tail-end of 2022.]
Then we move to the thorny question of supply chain issues. Like many other corporations, Ineos is beleaguered by disruptions tied to COVID-19, with further delays from material shortages and geopolitical factors like the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Of COVID and supply issues, a spokesperson told The Guardian last year that “like many automotive manufacturers, we are continually assessing the ongoing impact of these unprecedented times… we don’t comment on speculation and rumour.”
That same spokesperson also said that the company was “on track”, to which I would speculatively counter, see point #2 above.
Finally, we move to the Britishness of this quintessentially British car, the passion project of a very British man who loves Britain.
In the wake of Brexit and a cavalcade of governmental blunders, that country has endured mixed fortunes on the global stage, if by ‘mixed’ I mean ‘bad’ (and I do). In 2018, Ratcliffe pledged to build the Ineos Grenadier in Wales as a show of support in his homeland post-Brexit. That decision, Ratcliffe said, would help the Grenadier “retain its Britishness”. Pro-Brexit prime minister Boris Johnson was quite into the idea, describing Ratcliffe’s Welsh car plant as “a vote of confidence in UK expertise”.
Ratcliffe was, it’s worth pointing out, a vocal ‘Leave’ campaigner, and said after the referendum that “there is no room for weakness or crumpling at 3am when the going gets tough and most points are won or lost.” He also said that the UK would “thrive” without the red tape of the EU (counterpoint: it has not).
Two interesting things happened next.
In September 2020, Ineos Automotive announced that the Welsh plant would be scrapped. Instead, the company had bought a Daimler facility in Hambach, France, near the German border, that had previously been used to make whimsical Smart cars. “Hambach presented us with a unique opportunity that we simply could not ignore: to buy a modern automotive manufacturing facility with a world-class workforce,” Ratcliffe said of the move.
A couple of months later, Ratcliffe made another “vote of confidence” in the UK by moving to the tax haven of Monaco, saving himself an estimated £4bn (€4.6bn) in taxes.
On the upside, that windfall can be sunk back into funding a derivative four wheel drive that is an EU-built expression of Britishness, funded by a pro-Brexit billionaire that left Britain soon after he was knighted for his services to business and investment.
All of which leads us, in a very roundabout way, back to the Ineos Grenadiers (🚴).
Like any other professional cyclists, they can’t choose their sponsor. This is a fact that they share with those representing authoritarian regimes, supermarket chains, luxury showerheads and lotteries.
What is uniquely comical about the Ineos Grenadier sponsorship is that the team’s riders are individually an Ineos Grenadier, and collectively known as a group of Ineos Grenadiers, with all of those assorted Ineos Grenadiers wheeled out for photo opportunities posing alongside, in front of, and frequently on top of another Ineos Grenadier. This is how we know that you can fit seven Ineos Grenadiers on an Ineos Grenadier, and that the Ineos Grenadiers have at times warily eyed another Ineos Grenadier. We also know, courtesy of Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos Grenadier origin story, that all of those Ineos Grenadiers have at one point or another been the subject of intense thought over a pint at the Grenadier.
Like the headlights of the car, there’s something pleasingly circular about that.
Also like the car that sponsors them, the cycling team has had its challenges this year. But in the process, they’ve won fans with their grit and determination – Van Baarle’s Roubaix win, Thomas’s Tour podium, Bernal’s return to racing.
And for bonus points, they’ve done all of that diligently spinning their way forward in promotion of an expensive yet-to-be-released car that would make a mess out of cyclists, built to promote a failed empire. That, too, is a form of victory – I just don’t know who’s winning.