New Welsh factory at risk as Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos looks to make cars in France

Billionaire industrialist Sir Jim Ratcliffe may abandon plans to build car plants in Wales and Portugal in favour of buying an existing factory in France in a move which could put 1,000 new jobs at risk.

The Brexit-backing owner of Ineos has reportedly stalled work on the plants where the chemicals giant had planned to launch its car-making ambitions by building an heir to the Land Rover Defender, and may decide to scrap plans for the twin sites within weeks.

Ineos had planned to develop a car plant in Portugal to begin making body parts for the “rugged, uncompromised off-roader” by the end of next year, and had planned to run a new factory at Bridgend in South Wales to assemble the final vehicle.

The company was aiming to build up to 25,000 of its new Grenadier vehicles at the Bridgend plant every year before expanding its family of vehicles to include other models.

The plans have been cast in serious doubt after Ineos confirmed it has paused work on the construction of the plants while it is in talks with Mercedes-Benz about buying an existing facility in France.

Mercedes-Benz announced plans on Friday to sell the Hambach plant, which employs about 1,600 staff and is responsible for making Smart brand cars. Ineos had initially dismissed the plant as too small, but has resumed talks with Mercedes following a £445m upgrade in 2018.

Mark Tennant, the commercial director of Ineos Automotive, told the Financial Times that the Mercedes plant is “a serious business consideration” and that talks would take “weeks rather than anything longer”.

The decision to scrap plans for a new car plant in Bridgend, South Wales, spells further economic pain for the local community already reeling from news that Ford will shut its factory later this year after after more than 40 years.

Many of the 1,700 people working at the 60-acre Ford site halfway between Cardiff and Swansea had hoped to eventually find employment at the new Ineos plant which was under construction next door.

It would also mean that Ratcliffe’s British successor for the Land Rover Defender will use an engine designed in Germany by BMW and built in France. The Brexit supporter, and one of Britain’s richest men, left the UK to live in Monaco in 2018, just months after receiving his knighthood.

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