With back-to-back victories at Autocar’s Britain’s Best Driver’s Car contests and a five-star road test verdict to its name, the Ariel Atom 4 is a car that punches above its weight. But so is the company that makes it.
You’d be forgiven for driving straight past Ariel’s works, on the A30 Yeovil Road, just outside Crewkerne in Somerset, the first time you visit. It comprises some neat brick buildings that could be tidy barns or small industrial units. But from here come world-beating sports cars. Pull in and to your right is the service department. To your left is the production line, main offices and the R&D and engineering studios. Ariel is threatening to outgrow the place, but you wouldn’t know it from how well organised it is.
It’s a neat site because Ariel likes to do things properly. Inspect an Atom 4 closely and you’ll note how it is beautifully assembled and finished.
I’ve come to see what a typical day is like at Ariel. I’m aware that general manager Tom Siebert does a bit of everything – and he’s spent plenty of time with us over the years – so I’m expecting him to tell me no two days are alike, but that’s not the case.
“I do have a typical day – at the moment,” he says. “I get here at about 7.45am and spend until 10am doing emails. Then the phone starts ringing – customers, more business stuff. And a lot of my job is HR.”
Over the years, Siebert has taken over more of the daily running of the business from his old man, founder Simon Saunders. “My job is just organising the whole thing, basically,” says Siebert. “From ‘matey’s going to fix those tiles’, to budgets and dealing with customers.” Phone up to order an Atom and there’s still a decent chance Tom (who, alongside his brother Henry Siebert-Saunders and Simon, oversaw the car’s development), will answer.
Talking with customers, or to plebs like me, is apparently one of the more enjoyable parts of Siebert’s job, allowed by the company’s organisation. “I’ve spent a long time putting in a proper business structure, making sure that for the most part everything functions without having to micromanage people,” he says. Previously, he says, Ariel was really just a group of “mad men who wanted to drink cider and make cars”.