Brexit-backing billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is in talks to build his Grenadier off-road vehicle… in France.

Jim Ratcliffe Grenadier

Brexit-backing billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is in talks to build his Grenadier off-road vehicle, a paean to Britain’s adventurous spirit, in France.

Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group on Tuesday said it’s in detailed discussions with Daimler AG to take over the plant in Moselle, near the German border, the automaker has been making Smart compact cars.

Buying an already built plant would allow Ineos to make up for time lost during the Covid-19 pandemic, and meet its target to start production by the end of 2021 and sales in 2022, said Mark Tennant, Ineos Automotive’s commercial director. The talks with Daimler followed a decision announced last week by Daimler to sell the French site, he said in an interview.

The Grenadier, which was unveiled last week, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Land Rover Defender, a rugged go-anywhere four-wheel drive vehicle that evokes African safaris and excursions through the Australian outback. Ratcliffe, a 67-year-old billionaire who was a prominent backer of the U.K.’s leaving the European Union, has said the Defender inspired the Ineos model. The 67-year-old billionaire helped finance the campaign for the U.K to leave the European Union.

Producing it in France would upend an existing plan to build the Grenadier in Wales, with parts coming from a factory in Portugal. Those efforts, now on hold, were slowed by the Covid-19 outbreak, Tennant said.

Ineos had previously said the assembly plant in Wales and the sub-assembly plant in Portugal would each employ 200 people initially. Tennant declined to comment on specifics of the talks with Daimler.

“Covid has put a lot of things in the air and this gives us a new opportunity which wasn’t previously available,” Tennant said. “It’s all been very fast moving, and it’s not yet a done deal.”

Ratcliffe, the U.K.’s richest man with a $20 billion fortune, devised the new car after failing in a bid to bring back the original Defender when Jaguar Land Rover decided to end production in 2016. (It’s now come back, though in a much more refined form that is more suited for suburban life.)

To be powered by gasoline and diesel engines made by BMW AG, the Grenadier is named after the public house in London where Ratcliffe said the idea for his own version of the offroader was hashed out.

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