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Hopes that chemical giant INEOS would build its new 4X4 in Wales looked under threat as the group confirmed talks over acquiring a Mercedes-Benz plant in France instead.

Ineos had trumpeted that it would build the Grenadier, its stripped-down version of a Land Rover Defender, at a start-of-the-art plant close to Ford’s engine site in Bridgend.

The privately-owned group had even gone as far as posting computer-generated images of how its new site at Bridgend would look.

But having unveiled the vehicle’s design last week, it emerged today that INEOS is considering buying a plant at Hambach near Metz put up for sale by Mercedes owner Daimler.  

Dirk Heilmann, INEOS Automotive‘s chief executive, said in a statement: “As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic some new options such as this one with the plant in Hambach have opened up that were simply not available to us previously. 

“’We are therefore having another look – and reviewing whether the addition of two new manufacturing facilities is the right thing to do in the current environment.”

A switch of sites would be a major blow to the Welsh economy with Ford’s site set to close later this year.  

INEOS is the vehicle of Jim Ratcliffe, one of the UK’s richest men and a vociferous Brexiteer. 

The Hambach plant is near the German border in the industrial Saar region and has recently added a new dedicated SUV line, similar in size to the Grenadier, which makes it ideally suited to the production of the Grenadier, said INEOS’s statement.

A spokesman for INEOS  told the Mail that if the decision is to go with Hambach, production in south Wales or Portugal, where the chassis and body parts are to be made, would not go ahead.

The new factory at Bridgend was expected to create about 200 jobs initially and employ up to 500 people over the longer-term.