TVR is in safe hands, despite its sale to a 24-year-old Russian millionaire, bosses vowed last week. Former banker Nikolai Smolenski bought the Blackpool company, declaring his ambition to turn Britain’s biggest independent sports car maker into a global brand and crack the lucrative American market.
Smolenski is reputed to have paid between £10m-15m for TVR, buying out Peter Wheeler. A short official statement confirmed there would be no ‘large-scale restructuring’ and said that Wheeler would assume a senior consultancy role.
‘Peter felt it was time for a younger man with lots of ideas and resources to take the company onto the next level,’ said a spokesman.
However, an investigation by Autocar has uncovered a rival bid from a British-led consortium. It was masterminded by Nigel Gordon-Stewart, former global head of sales and marketing at Lamborghini, with Creighton Brown, who was heavily involved with the McLaren F1, and industry analyst Jay Nagley.
An insider claims these negotiations had been ongoing for several months and the cash was in place for an offer of similar size to Smolenski’s, only for the group to find out last week that their bid was unsuccessful – despite having proven sports car engineers, designers and experts on hand, something the Russian takeover team so far appears to lack.
TVR officials deny there was even a rival offer on the table: ‘There were no other serious offers,’ said the spokesman. ‘There have always been people sniffing around, but this [Smolenski’s offer] was it.’
Although the Russian has no experience in running a car company, he is said to be a keen sports car enthusiast who already owns one TVR and has a second on order. Smolenski’s personal fortune is estimated to be in the region of £55m, a large chunk of which is now sunk into TVR, raising questions over future investment required in R&D, marketing and the Blackpool factory. ‘How deep are his pockets?’ asked Professor Peter Cooke, Nottingham Business School’s automotive expert. ‘The critical things are quality, new products and being able to expand the company’s distribution.’ Prof Cooke was sceptical about any early moves into the American market, warning that many small firms had tried and failed to win sales in the world’s biggest sports car market.
‘With the quality issue at present, I don’t think TVR would survive in America – you’ve got to get that sorted first. He should use the money to turn TVR into a first-class car company before chasing big volumes,’ he said.
Cooke cited Morgan as an example of a well managed specialist manufacturer that knows its niche and doesn’t chase excessive volume. He warned that the new Russian boss could be ‘too hands on – it will need a strong person who understands the industry to stand up to him’.
However, TVR’s spokesman pointed out that Wheeler had no automotive experience when he took over in 1981. He also quashed fears that production could be moved out of the UK, saying Smolenski recognised ‘the best automotive designers and engineers are in the UK.’