Start A Car Company? Are You Mad?

by | Feb 2, 2014 | Opinion | 0 comments

This post is sponsored by Express Insurance.

It would take a braver person than I to start a car company. It’s an industry that can suck up vast sums of cash and promise little in return but get it right and there are big rewards to be claimed. It’s a gamble, a big one, and you need some stonking cojones to carry it through.

And yet there are those confident enough to try it. In recent months there have been three new names joining the fray, three companies willing to put their livelihood on the line and try to make a fortune in the automotive industry – David Brown Automotive, Zenos and Castle Three.

Their timing is no coincidence. The British economy is starting to drag itself out from the Pit of Despair, and one sector in particular stands out in this recovery – automotive. British car production has recovered to pre-recession levels and the percentage of exports has dropped (down from 82% to 79%). Britain is rediscovering its appetite for new cars and that seems like a good time to start a new business venture.

David Brown Automotive

The name may not be familiar now but if David Brown’s plans come to fruition it soon will be. His plan is to take a modern donor car and turn it into something with the styling and elegance of a 60s classic. It’s the opposite approach to that taken by Eagle with the E-Type, where a classic is upgraded with modern running gear.

David Brown

David Brown Automotive aim to add luxury to an existing British coupé

The target is to produce 50-200 cars a year, based on the chassis of an unnamed British rear-wheel drive V8 coupé. That makes for a short list of potential donors but the smart money would go on the Jaguar XK. The first model will be unrecognisable from the donor and feature an all-new aluminium body and sumptuous interior with wood, leather and stainless steel.

I can certainly understand the appeal. A mixture of modern dynamics, reliability and economy fused with the classic lines of an old Aston, Ferrari or Lamborgini. It sounds great to me.

Zenos

The Zenos E10 was revealed at the Autosport International show but while the eyes of the world were taking in the sharp angles and creases on the topless two-seater, they might not have noticed the nervous smiles of bosses Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards, both of whom served time at Caterham.

Zenos are aiming at the track day market, one that’s seen significant growth in the last decade. The E10 looks like a tempting prospect, a light rear-wheel drive coupé priced from £24,995 and offering enough performance to keep enthusiasts happy.

Zenos E10

The Zenos E10 offers lightweight, rear-wheel drive fun.

The light weight comes from an innovative production process that uses recycled carbon fibre to produce a monocoque that has 70% of the strength of the original material and weighs little more. Combine that with a 2.0-litre Ford engine and you have a recipe for lightweight fun, perfect for track days.

Can Zenos meet their target of 200 units a year? A batch of pre-orders from the Autosport show suggests that yes, they could.

Castle Three

Back in the 20s a little outfit called the Castle Motor Company produced three-wheeled cars. They were up against another small British firm called Morgan but where Morgan have survived the intervening years, Castle faded away. Wind the clock forward to the modern day and Morgan are enjoying success with their retro-styled three-wheeler and that’s one of the reasons their old rival is making a comeback.

Don’t be fooled by the return to old-fashioned motoring. Castle Three are approaching the car market in a very modern way and that includes turning to crowd-funding to boost their development funds. They’re actively encouraging people to invest in the company, no matter how small the sum, and plan to use the initial funds to finalise the design and get the first prototype ready this year. It’s still early days for Castle Three but Morgan have proved that there’s definitely a market for old-school fun.

Castle Three

Castle Three have revived a name from the 1920s

Different Approaches, Same Goal

As you can see all three are taking very different approaches but there’s one thing in common that stands out – they’re all going for specific niches. In a world where the major brands have covered almost every conceivable corner of the market it can be very difficult to get a foothold, but by satisfying the demands of a small group of keen motorists they stand a fair chance.

The big question that faces David Brown, Zenos and Castle Three is whether their chosen market will be big enough to sustain them and allow for growth. Each business model has its merits but history is littered with the memories of startup companies who’ve flickered briefly before fading away.

Well, Driving Spirit hopes that all three enjoy the success they’re looking for. The automotive world needs companies like these to add a little colour to the landscape, a bit of relief to the design-by-committee approach of the big manufacturers, and we should applaud their bravery.

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