It’s often the smaller stories within the industry which are the most interesting. Take Potenza’s acquisition of Westfield back in 2006, for example.
You’ve probably never heard much about Potenza, but the firm’s beginnings could prove significant in shaping the future direction of Westfield.
Potenza Technology was set up in 1999 when BMW closed down MG Rover’s hybrid and electric research unit. Paul Faithfull was one of the leaders of Rover’s future technology research and thought the now defunct British company was onto such a good thing, he decided to take on its R&D in his own company.
At the time, says Faithfull, Rover’s research was the most advanced in the world. “The problem was,” he says, “the market wasn’t ready for the tech and the costs were too high, so we couldn’t do anything”.
So what was going on at Longbridge and on university campuses in the West Midlands? Faithfull revealed to me three of Rover's behind closed doors projects which never saw the light of day.
His team created two all–electric Metros and a military-spec Defender hybrid that was partly powered by batteries from on-board army radios. Most interesting of all though was the Highlander, a short-wheelbase Defender which had an electric motor powering each wheel.
It could get from 0-60mph in just 4.5sec. These projects would be impressive today, let alone 10-20 years ago.
Despite the romantic images of British engineers conjuring up the equivalent of 20th Century automotive witchcraft, there was no fairytale ending to Rover’s electric development. Off BMW went, armed with many of the patents.
Potenza set about on consultancy work for clients. Then it acquired Westfield and it could back to what it does best.
Faithfull has five electric Westfields up his sleeve, the first of which is the iRacer. This has two electric motors providing direct drive to each rear wheel and has a centre of gravity of a Formula One car.
So convinced with the benefits of electric technology for Westfield, Faithfull is prepared to build the future of the company around it and move away from the constant Caterham comparisons.
“I don’t want us to be compared to Caterham any more,” he says. “We want a whole new style and look. We want cutting-edge radical design and this is a real market opportunity.”