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An automotive ‘start-up’ or just another upstart?

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The words ‘join the adventure to build an uncompromising 4×4’ would attract attention if they came from a vehicle manufacturer. When these words come from the world’s third largest chemical company in the form of a full-page advertisement in the business section of The Sunday Times, the level of attention may be difficult to judge.

The chemical company in question is Ineos, which was formed in 1998 by entrepreneur Jim Ratcliffe after he led an earlier management buyout of BP’s chemical business.

Now, Ratcliffe has identified a niche opportunity to fill the gap left by the much-loved Land Rover Defender, whose production ended last year – and it’s this that’s led to The Sunday Times ad.

Such an initiative, usually undertaken by existing bespoke or specialist vehicle manufacturers should be welcomed. However, the motor industry does have a history of dismissing anything that is NIH – not invented here.

The advertisement seeks to attract ‘seasoned experts from the automotive industry’ to help set up a new automotive business to launch a vehicle to fill a gap in the market. And with the recent purchase of GM’s European operations by the PSA Group and many at Ford Europe looking over their shoulders, there should be no shortage of applicants.

Automotive ‘start-ups’ by non-automotive companies provide a breath of fresh air in an industry that seems inhibited by its legacy. It has taken a Tesla, a Google and other technology companies to shake vehicle manufacturers out of their complacency and belief that only they can solve mobility issues in the future.

As cars become technology platforms, an increasing number of new vehicle debuts are at international technology exhibitions rather than traditional ‘cars on carpets’ motor shows.

And as the ‘new kid on the block’, Jim Ratcliffe has one major advantage over any existing bespoke or specialist vehicle manufacturers.

There are no existing or legacy relationships with vehicle manufacturers or suppliers which could compromise the final specification of the vehicle. Ratcliffe starts with a clean sheet of paper and just needs the people with the right chemistry to make it work. He deserves to succeed.