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Electric

Ineos Fusilier: "two huge failings of electric cars" mean a range-extender will be offered

Sir Jim Ratcliffe explains why the new e-4x4 will be offered in two versions

Published: 26 Feb 2024

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, made his fortune in petrochemicals, but he’s lately taken to indulging his passions. If you’ve recently acquired a 27 per cent stake in Manchester United, arguably the world’s biggest football club, your name alone is enough to guarantee headlines. There’s also sailing, cycling and Formula One, all high profile banners for the Ineos brand. And then there’s automotive, an altogether different sort of adventure that has taken Ratcliffe into the deeply challenging  business of creating his own car manufacturer.

You’ll recall that when his bid to buy the rights to the old Land Rover Defender were rebuffed, he resolved to create his own. Somewhere north of £1.3bn and many headaches later, the project has yielded the full-size, combustion-engined Grenadier and Quartermaster pick-up. The reviews were mixed, but the company sold 8,000 last year, in the midst of a tricky ramp-up phase, and is targeting 30,000 units this year. America is on-board now too, where interest is apparently keener than expected, and most of the Grenadiers sold are highly specced. Good for margins.

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Now we can add the slightly smaller and (slightly) cuddlier looking Fusilier, a battery-electric vehicle that will crucially also be available with a range-extending auxiliary power unit thus obviating any anxiety about disrupted journeys. It sits on a new platform, uses batteries from Samsung, and aims to seduce the buyer that doesn’t run a building company, tow a horsebox, or head into the Sahara at the drop of a hat. It’s, gulp, Ineos’s lifestyle car. It’ll even have rack and pinion steering.

The media were duly summoned to The Grenadier pub in London’s salubrious Knightsbridge for a first look and heads-up from Ratcliffe and his team. This is the very place in which the idea for the Grenadier 4x4 was first kicked around, renamed The Fusilier for one day only in honour of the new vehicle. Interestingly, this hostelry is tucked down one of the charming mews streets that pepper this part of London, the sort of joint you’d only find if you knew what you were looking for. A bit like the Ineos Grenadier, you might say.

It also turned out to be quite a snug environment for a big briefing, but then Ratcliffe is usually worth listening to and we don’t mind getting our elbows out. Stratospherically successful in his world, he remains left-field when it comes to cars. Indeed, you suspect the Fusilier BEV only exists at all because the European regulators tell him he has to make it. He’s complying, but as ever, he’s doing it his way.

“The [car] industry is in flux at the moment. They know what the objectives are – to reduce the carbon footprint – but aren’t absolutely sure how to do that,” he tells us. “If you’re a car producer in Europe, you have to have a green offering because you can’t survive without that because of the regulations. We have to have this offering whether we like it or not. We do like it, because it’s a good thing for the world. But we got a long way down that road developing it until a few months ago and then paused for a bit.

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“There are two huge failings of electric cars. You cannot always get from A to B. And you can’t fill it up. You can’t be too idealistic about it. One of the things that we do in our sort of business world is question things, rather than just follow the sheep. We’re also very international. In America they’re not forcing one solution down people’s throats. They’re saying there will be a range of options.”

Hence the range extender. Why back this particular solution, I ask him, given that BMW walked away from it and only Mazda still offers a REX?

“If I had the choice of a fully electric car or one with a range extender, I know which one I would take,” he replied. Matter-of-fact pragmatism is a Ratcliffe trait. “The engine doesn’t vary in temp and runs as a generator. It doesn’t need variable valves or fancy cams. It runs at a steady state and is super efficient. It still has a low carbon footprint, so you can feel good about it, but without the anxiety about range or filling it up. A lot of Chinese companies are going down that road and I think we’ll see it in America too.”

Sir Jim insists it’s about the use case. He gets around his Monaco home, for example, in an electric Smart. If he’s skiing in Courcheval, he’ll use a Grenadier. Or maybe the Mercedes G-Wagen. Lucky Jim has a fleet of cars, you see, including some very famous old F1 cars. But maybe if you only had one car, the Fusilier would be it – when they start making it in 2027. He adds that Ineos is evaluating new production facilities in China and the US.

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There are still huge gains to be made in combustion engines, he continues, citing F1 powertrains as an example. Europe’s expertise in combustion engines shouldn’t be abandoned, he insists. “It will get used around the world.” Bio-fuels, he says, are challenging. “If you’re planting a field for fuel when the world hasn’t got enough food, that becomes quite emotive.”

Lynn Calder, Ineos Automotive’s CEO, denies that the company is a thorn in the side of the establishment. “We’re not anti-establishment for the sake of it. We’re not scared to go in the opposite direction of everyone else if we think it’s the right way to go,” she tells TG.com.

“But we don’t believe that the direction of travel – Europe and UK being all EV by 2035 – is correct or is going to happen. So you work back from that and say, ‘well what’s going to fill that gap?’ We’re going to fail on infrastructure, on the fact that not everyone wants an EV, on rare earth materials.

"Look, stating an intent and expecting everyone to fall in line doesn’t make it happen.”

She expands on the Ineos ethos. “We need to head down the right path, have a mix of plug-in hybrids, range extenders, a decent mix of EV and some hydrogen. So that provides a multi-powertrain solution to a very complex problem. OK, you might not have an entire fleet at net zero but overall your CO2 emissions will be lower.

“Look, it’s a bit like saying, 'OK, we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels so by 2035 we’ll get all our energy from wind, from one technology'. It’s obvious to everyone that wouldn’t work, so why is powertrain any different? I’m a pragmatist. We need to get on the path, do all the right things, accept lots of new technologies and innovate. At the end of it, you’re going to be in a better position that way than making bold statements.”

On the Fusilier, Calder says the broadening remit is a natural evolution rather than a deliberate lifestyle pivot. “We’re working really hard to make sure it’s the most capable off-road EV out there. On the Grenadier, we’ve tried really hard to break it and find things we can’t do with it. And we haven’t managed that yet.”

The company should be profitable this year, Calder says, but is honest about the challenges she and the team have faced. “I joke that doing this is not for the faint-hearted but it’s not really a joke. It’s not for the faint-hearted. We’ve joined an established industry, one that’s in a state of flux in a world that is very uncertain, and we’ve had to learn a huge amount. But the whole ambition of it is awesome, in the true sense of the word.”

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