BILLIONAIRE chemicals boss Jim Ratcliffe, who owns the huge petrochemical site at Grangemouth, is planning to launch Britain’s biggest independent car company.

Mr Ratcliffe said his Ineos firm has had a "significant" amount of interest from European countries outside the UK to build its new 4x4 vehicle.

The firm plans to build 25,000 vehicles a year from 2020 along the lines of the Land Rover Defender which went out of production in 2016.

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Mr Ratcliffe has revealed more details of the so-called Projekt Grenadier in a briefing at a pub in central London where he had the original idea of building a new version of the Defender.

"In an ideal world we would like to build it in the UK, which is where its heritage is based. But we have had a significant amount of interest from the Continent, where we could use existing facilities," he said.

Ineos plans to spend up to £600 million on the project, and will employ 1,000 workers directly, with up to 10,000 other jobs created indirectly.

Three versions will be built - petrol, diesel and hybrid - and there are no current plans to build an electric version because of the weight of the battery needed to power it.

Mr Ratcliffe said companies in a number of countries, including Germany, had the space and skilled workforce available to build the as-yet-unnamed 4x4, adding it would be a "challenge" to base production in the UK without a subsidy.

Talks have already been held with the Government about the project, and Ineos said its preferred location was likely to be along the UK's eastern seaboard, between Scotland and Hull.

Around 200 engineers, including some from Germany, will be working on the project by the end of the year and Mr Ratcliffe said the aim was to make a world-class 4x4, which was rugged, reliable and "cool".

Speaking at the Grenadier pub in Belgravia, Mr Ratcliffe, who drives a Defender, said he wanted to build a new version which was unbreakable, adding: "The Land Rover was a great vehicle, but it was not unbreakable.

"When I go on safari in Africa I drive a Land Rover - but I always take a picnic basket."

He said there has already been a huge amount of interest in the new vehicle, which he hoped will appeal to farmers, adventurers and city dwellers - although he said it will not be a "Chelsea tractor".

He dismissed concerns that Ineos has no experience in car design.

“We would not be doing this if we were not serious about it and thought we could make a profit,” Mr Ratcliffe said. “We think we know a fair bit about manufacturing from the chemicals side of the business: putting in £600m is a lot of money and we have got to balance the books.”

A competition will be held to name the new vehicle, and a website has been launched, giving progress of the project.

Mr Ratcliffe has set a target date of 2020 to get first models rolling off the production line.

Around 15,000 Defenders were built a year until Jaguar Land Rover ended production last year at its Solihull plant in the West Midlands.

The Defender name was introduced in 1990 and more than two million were built.

Jaguar Land Rover has announced plans to build a replacement Defender but Mr Ratcliffe is not convinced it will prove a worthy successor.

HeraldScotland:

Background: Man inspired by chimney pots has found another driven project

by Martin Williams

JIM RATCLIFFE, the billionaire chairman of Ineos, which owns the Grangemouth oil refinery, is thought to be the world’s richest Mancunian.

His £3.3 billion fortune puts him in the same rich list league as high-profile knights of the realm such as Sir Richard Branson, Sir James Dyson and Sir Philip Green.

Radcliffe, a 64-year-old British chemical engineer turned financier and industrialist, was inspired to pursue a career in industry when, as a child growing up in Failsworth, Greater Manchester, he would count chimneys from his bedroom window.

The son of a joiner and an office worker mother, problems with eczema reportedly kept him from pursuing a career in chemical engineering. Instead, he joined US private equity firm Advent International, sharpening his deal-making skills before branching off, in 1998 at the age of 40, into entrepreneurship to set up Ineos and turn it into one of the world’s biggest chemical companies.

The privately owned petrochemicals firm, which has moved its headquarters back to the UK after six years in Switzerland, now employs 17,000 people and has an annual turnover of around £35 billion.

In 2010 he pleaded with the Government to grant Ineos a tax break, arguing it would help secure the firm’s future.

Ratcliffe’s stand-off with workers at the Grangemouth power plant, which he bought in 2005 as part of a £5bn deal for BP’s refining and petrochemical arm Innovene, was one of the most fractious disputes of modern times.

During the height of 2013 row, the tough-talking Ineos chief came close to shutting the plant, while the Unite union dubbed him “Dr No” due to his stubborn refusal to compromise over workers’ pensions.

He is a strong advocate of shale gas extraction in the UK.

Ineos Shale is the biggest owner of shale gas licences in the UK with exploration rights in Scotland, North West England, Yorkshire and the East Midlands.