Insight: Caterham On Making Purist British Sportscars
In 1957, Colin Chapman built a lively little road car. His motto was “simplify, then add lightness”. The design engineer, inventor and founder of Lotus wanted to create something a little more special than your average performance car, one with a distinctive British character. His ambition was for his customers to experience the making of their own vehicle, be involved in the process to heighten their connection with their sportscar when they would then take it to the road. Chapman called his little invention, the Seven.
Caterham Cars continues to honor Chapman’s philosophy. Having acquired the rights to develop the Seven in 1973, the UK carmaker creates retro-styled variants of the original model. The 21st century Seven is designed to be fun to drive in the purest of fashions. The boutique collection comprises of feather-weight performance road cars that tend not to feature driver aid technology. They are made in limited numbers with only 600 motor cars built each year at the factory in Kent, UK. They are popular too, with the latest Seven SuperSprint selling out in a matter of hours. The company is involved in motor racing and there are talks of exploring electric propulsion too. As Caterham prepares to launch its first brand film, I caught up with the chief executive officer, Graham Macdonald, to learn a little more about the brand.
Nargess Banks: You are about to launch a brand film. Sales are consistent and you have a very specific market that is loyal to Caterham and doesn't need convincing. So why create one now?
Graham Macdonald: The film is representative of a broader push towards cultivating an evolved image of the Caterham brand for our customers. Its launch ties into a range of activities we are undertaking to bring our customers closer to why we do what we do. That is, to create some of the purest driver-focused experiences in the industry.
NB: The advert runs with the bold message: “We don’t do technology”. Is this the main brand message with the car - that you offer the purest of driving experiences?
GM: Caterham stands for fun driving experiences. The anti-technology message is our own tongue-in-cheek way of communicating this. As assistance systems continue to encroach on the driver experience, we are witnessing the sterilization of leisure driving. We don’t believe in that and want to take a stand for those who seek a more visceral thrill.
NB: How did you approach the creative process?
GM: We contacted Wriggles and Robins, a London based agency, to help us realise this vision. They helped translate the essence of our brand into this anti-technology manifesto, taking it forward into a concept that boils down our values into a punchy film. Hopefully, viewers are left with no doubt about what Caterham stands for.
NB: Yours is a company focused on providing this almost traditionalist, purist driving dynamics with the Seven. How do you see your position in the age of clean, ecological (and later) autonomous driving?
GM: I see us continuing to offer in the future exactly what we do now. As more autonomy, technology and driver aids encroach on our day to day cars, we believe there will always be demand for pure, driver focussed product that provides thrills and experiences. We just hope, and indeed will continue to lobby, legislative bodies to continue to allow small, niche vehicle manufacturers like us to produce low volume, bespoke, internal combustion engine cars to cater for our customers’ desires.
NB: Bespoke, that is crafting cars that are individual and built in limited numbers for specific customers, is the future of modern luxury. How do you see your brand positioned within this?
GM: We will never be mainstream and mass produced; all of our cars are bespoke to individual customers’ requirements. We see ourselves continuing the tradition of offering bespoke product to customers who want the thrill and excitement of man and machine as one.
NB: Your sales have been strong and you have carved a niche market. How do you navigate the future for Caterham?
GM: The future is strong. We continue to see strong demand for our current product in our core markets and have a forward order book of almost a year. We will continue to build and offer the Seven to our customers, but of course we are always looking to the future at potential new models. Although there is nothing planned for the near future, who knows what we may develop in the longer term.