You’ve probably been wondering what happened to Caterham Car’s former CEO and COO, Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards. Well, yesterday they announced details of their new venture, Zenos Cars.
Back in July, we met with Edwards and spoke about the investment opportunities in the new company, which both he and Ali had bootstrapped with their own money. Well yesterday, at a ceremony at Millbrook, the company received a government grant to support development of their innovative new chassis architecture, and can work towards an official launch of their first car by the end of this year.
This is a well-rehearsed performance from Zenos, and while there will be striking similarities to Caterham’s vision of the future, we are also presented with an intriguing contrast in styles.
When I sat-down with Mark Edwards earlier this summer, it was evident that he and Ansar Ali understood their market well; demand and constraints grow evenly together, but no amount of clever marketing will ever deliver on an over-priced product. The E10 should represent everything that owners of lightweight sports cars can ask for; a responsive chassis, a lively Ford powertrain and adaptable suspension. Most of all, it will be affordable to even modest budgets; easy to maintain and easy to upgrade.
Over in Monza and Norfolk, Dartford and Kuala Lumpur, I can imagine the marketing teams busily preparing Tony Fernandes’ presentation of his rival to the Zenos E10 – set to be unveiled at this month’s Singapore Grand Prix. And I’m sure the glossy, sleek images of the new Caterham will be closely-aligned to the E10 and the spirit of the men who once kept the marque faithful.
Caterham, of course, have the hard cash and branding that the team at Zenos could only once dream of. But Ali and Edwards have walked this path before. They bear the scars of toil from their time at Lotus and again from Caterham’s post-Nearn era. So if anyone can make this industry exciting again, perhaps they can.
Ali is under no illusions that the journey will be easy, but believes their strengths compared with established car makers will be unique, “..we are prepared to take the rough with the smooth,” said Ali “and want to be different and more in tune with the driving enthusiast.”
Over a 5 year period Zenos plans to launch three models – project codes E10, E11 and E12 – powered by a 200bhp mid-mounted 2.0-litre Ford GDI engine driving the rear wheels.
The first car, codenamed Project E10, is a step-in chassis, rather like the KTM X-Bow and Vuhl 05, but unlike either of these, Zenos plans to price it keenly. The engine for the E10 will be naturally aspirated, with future (more powerful) models using forced induction.
Zenos aims to deliver a thrilling and engaging lightweight sports car experience that is ‘affordable’, and that’s one of the core strengths of their business plan. Unlike most other automotive start-ups such as Vuhl (starting price £65,000) or Bac Mono (£110,000), both founders know how to run a low-volume car company and still make a profit, so have put in the underpinnings to maximise their chances of success.
Ali led a management buy-in of Caterham in 2005 supported by venture capitalist group, Corven. The business made record profits in 2011 before being sold to Fernandes. It’s this knowledge, combined with Ali’s previous experience as General Manager of Lotus Cars (Edwards was Head of Strategy at Lotus) which is being put to good use in Zenos Cars.
We’ve seen the pre-prototype drawings of all three cars and while the E10 will remind you of an X-Bow, the E12 looks like a direct competitor for the forthcoming Caterham-Alpine sports car. Likewise, while Caterham’s new car is likely to exceed £50,000, the E12’s should come as a pleasant surprise to ordinary enthusiasts.
The cars will be lightweight, between 650kg and 750kg, thanks to the integration of a single ‘backbone’ aluminium extrusion with a carbon composite tub. This architecture delivers significant torsional rigidity, while utilising recycled carbon fibre with a novel thermoplastic core. Compared to other carbon-based sports cars, the Zenos platform delivers world class mechanical efficiency without the typically high production and replacement costs.
Although performance is a key attribute of any lightweight sports car, Zenos will be offering an experience which goes beyond the thrill of simply driving. Cars will be involving, uncomplicated and fun, but also accessible and built around a community of passionate like-minded owners.
The next step is Autosport International, where the fully designed E10 will debut before going on sale later in 2014.