As Telegrams go, the latest communication from Caterham is typically short on detail, yet warning of great things to come.
Caterham Cars to release new, affordable, entry-level Seven STOP
Priced at under £17,000 STOP
Complete with Chapman DNA and EU6 powertrain STOP.
And for the moment, that’s about all we know.
But then take a look at the transitions happening within Caterham’s product range and suddenly, the grainy picture becomes a little clearer.
You see, there already is an entry-level product; it’s called the Classic, and the price today starts at £14,495. But this is a car that still uses the old Rover K-Series engine and Ford’s Type-9 gearbox, both of which are well beyond their expiry date.
And while the Classic might seem to represent great value for your money, at this price, it’s not entirely ready for the road. Indeed, what you’re buying is a self-assemble, unpainted kit, with no roof or weather gear, all of which comes in a very large cardboard box.
Of course, countless hours of fun can be had attempting to build your sports car, but the reality is that few people have the skill or confidence, and even fewer have the time or the facilities to do a competent job.
So at sub £17,000, Caterham are finally taking the bold step of being clearer with their pricing, and at the same time, making the buying process a lot easier, because this is a car that is not a kit but that will come fully factory-built.
For existing Seveners, it is unlikely to even feature on their radar, but for those who have so-far only dreamed of a Caterham adorning their drive-way, it could just represent a significant step towards ownership.
Imagine that you have £15,000 burning a hole in your pocket (I said “imagine”), and that you take the leap and tell your partner (big mistake by the way) that the two of you are off to buy a new Caterham.
The clever thing about this car is that Caterham don’t need to be clever, the response from the chassis and power train should look after that.
£14,450 leaves you with a few £s to spare, but then comes the first killer question – “Would you like it painted?” Of course you do, you’ve always wanted a car in the traditional Lotus green with yellow stripe. Only, you have to pay extra for paint, quite a bit extra.
And what about a full windscreen? And a hood? And then there’s the nail; “where would you like the kit sent?” It’s the automotive equivalent of flying with Ryan Air. Suddenly, £14,450 is much nearer to £20k and the proposition is not quite so attractive to you and considerably less so to your other-half.
But if Caterham is prepared to take itself seriously, then perhaps we can too.
Once you’ve owned a car like this, you’ll never look back, but there’s a gulf between engaging the public and converting this into revenue. If Graham MacDonald (Caterham Cars’ CEO) and his team can wrap the new “Classic” in an attractive package, then perhaps they can start to capitalise on the dreams of more than just a few.
And it’s this approach that will help redefine Caterham as they make the transition from a “cottage” brand into a volume car maker.
It’s not just about the DNA, and it’s certainly not about a Formula One team that haemorrhages over £1 million in investment capital each week; it’s about managing perceptions and offering product to customers in a manner that meets (or exceeds) their expectations.
The clever thing about this car is that Caterham don’t need to be clever, the response from the chassis and power train should look after that. They just need to keep the spec’ simple, the price down and invite the public to judge for themselves.