Chemicals company Ineos is in talks to build a new 4×4 car at Ford’s Bridgend factory in a move that could save more than 1,000 jobs.
Ineos founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the UK’s richest person, wants to assemble a vehicle “in the spirit of” the classic Land Rover Defender.
Ineos is now in discussions with Ford to use part of its plant in South Wales, according to the Financial Times, which cited three people close to the talks.
Mr Ratcliffe’s firm is seeking to use the part of the plant in which Ford makes engines for Jaguar Land Rover.
Ford’s contract with JLR for petrol engines ends in 2020 and the US car manufacturer has warned that 1,100 jobs at Bridgend could go unless the deal is renewed.
Building the new model at Ford’s South Wales plant would therefore be a significant boost to the UK’s car industry, which is under threat as the country prepares to leave the EU.
Last week another prominent British firm, Dyson, announced it would build its new electric car in Singapore.
Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Airbus and Nissan have all said they will have to reconsider their operations if the government doesn’t secure a Brexit deal before the UK leaves the EU in March.
Honda said in September that a no deal would cost it tens of millions of pounds, while BMW said it would push forward a planned shutdown of its Mini plant in Oxford to coincide with the beginning of Brexit to minimise risk of disruption.
Meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover has moved workers at its Castle Bromwich plant to a three-day week because of “continuing headwinds impacting the car industry”. Chief executive Ralf Speth warned that tens of thousands of jobs in the UK motor industry are at risk if a no-deal Brexit goes ahead.
Mr Ratcliffe has amassed a fortune estimated at £21bn through his petrochemicals company and has previously said the UK would be “perfectly successful” outside the EU.
In August he announced he was moving to Monaco, the Mediterranean tax haven where he owns property. His company was criticised for shifting its tax residence from the UK to Switzerland in 2010, before moving back six years later.
Mr Ratcliffe has said he would invest £600m to begin output of his new off-roader from 2020-21, saying he would prefer to build in Britain despite cheaper alternatives in countries such as Germany where the workforce is already trained and Ineos could use existing sites.
“We’d have to build new in the UK so to balance that playing field, because you’re talking about hundreds of millions to build a facility… it does need some government support,” he said when the plans were first announced in 2017.