New Caterham Cars boss Graham MacDonald popped in to the Autocar office for a chat and a coffee this morning, to bring us up to speed on what’s been happening at the company.
MacDonald is a Caterham long-termer who was chief financial officer before sliding into the hot seat in place of Ansar Ali, who left suddenly last month after six years in charge.
It’s an interesting time for MacDonald to take the helm of the company, which has been owned by Malaysian aviation entrepreneur Tony Fernandes since 2011 and is in the process of moving to a new technical base in Leafield, Oxfordshire.
On the road car side, MacDonald told us that he’s about to call his management team together for a ‘clean sheet of paper’ meeting to thrash out Caterham’s model strategy for the near to mid-term future.
Don’t expect MacDonald to preside over a radical (no pun intended) shift away from Caterham’s traditional lightweight, minimalist performance car ethos, although it might seek to exploit one or two gaps in its current range.
One car that’s under consideration is a two-seat coupé that would offer more in the way of comfort-oriented appeal. MacDonald said that as well as having a roof, the car could have more in the way of creature comforts and luxury in the cabin and would be easy to get into and out of. If built, it could cost between £40k and £45k, putting it in the ballpark of the current range-topper, the CSR260.
In terms of power, the easily tunable and robust Ford-derived Sigma and Duratec four-pots are likely to remain installed in Caterham’s range, although in mainland Europe there is a hunger for more powerful cars, so supercharging could be used to extract more grunt from the units.
Big boss Fernandes is keen to see Caterham broaden its appeal as a global company. The new coupé that’s talked about could be constructed with one eye on the Asian market; indeed, it could even be constructed in the Far East, in order to make selling it at a competitive price there more viable. It’s also likely that Caterham’s technical engineering arm, CTI, would be heavily involved in creating the new machine.
Caterham has also significantly ramped up its presence in motorsport since Fernandes bought it. For 2012 Fernandes rebranded his F1 squad as Caterham F1 (although the car driven by Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen is not, sadly, based on the exquisite handling of the Seven), supported a team in F1’s feeder formula, GP2, and announced plans for an entry-level karting championship.
The grand scheme is to have a joined-up career ladder from karting through Caterham’s popular one-make Academy and racing championships and, for the lucky few, perhaps even further into motorsport’s rarified upper echelons.
The two sides of Caterham’s business tie together under the ‘designed for racing, built for living’ motto. Developing new, profitable road car products without diluting Caterham’s ‘true Brit’ character is a tough balancing act, but MacDonald seems suitably fired up for the task. We’ll follow the marque’s next chapter with interest.