Small British sports car makers rarely get a chance to shine on the world stage at major international motor shows. But they can really play to their audience at events such as the Autosport International, as Caterham and Radical have shown this morning.
Both have shown significant new offerings – Caterham with its SP/300.R sports prototype and Radical with its SR3 SL road car – and both punctuated their presentations with tales of success that prove the niche British sports car market is very much alive and kicking.
Caterham will announce figures in the next few days that will show 2010 was a record year for it, both in its sales and profits. It’s a similar story at Radical: in 2010 it sold its 1000th car since its launch in 1997 and it shifted around 200 units alone in 2010.
What both new cars highlight is the understanding the two firms have of their customer bases and their willingness to listen – and respond – to what they’re being told, particularly from new customers overseas who want something different from the firms’ traditional offerings.
Ansar Ali, Caterham’s managing director, told me that China and India in particular were markets that were keen for something new from Caterham – particularly as the Seven is not suited for road use over there.
“China and India are getting into their track days,” he said, “and didn’t really get the Seven. So we’re offering something different. By buying the SP/300.R they can understand the Caterham brand and we can communicate the Seven to them. SP/300.R is a halo car, and it’s one we can use to help us sell more Sevens.”
He also said Caterham buyers who progressed through the Seven range hit a glass ceiling with the Superlight R500 and there was “natural seepage” away from the brand. This new track day car and racer can help retain more Caterham owners – “it’s a natural progression,” says Ali.
Radical also listened to its overseas buyers: it has seen a sharp rise in interest from Europe from buyers who want to take their Radicals on the road. Current Radicals can be used on the road, but only after obtaining time consuming European Type Approval. But now Radical can do that for you straight from the factory.
Both Radical and Caterham are targeting low sales volumes to ensure quality and residual values are kept high, but both have even bigger plans going forward – starting with a road-going version of the SP/300.R, perhaps? Ali isn’t ruling it out. “We will gauge demand and take it from there,” he said with a grin.
Fingers crossed it happens: an Autocar twin test on public roads between the SR3 SL and the SP/300.R would be memorable…