Iconic British car company has new Japanese owner

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Words: Matthew Hansen
7 Apr 2021

In this age of electrification transition, a lot of car enthusiasts are struggling to see how all the iconography that made the motoring world so attractive to them in the first place is going to translate into the new world.

On a large scale, this worry envelopes things like the V8 engine, the manual gearbox. But there are many other elements and entities that are also going to need to adapt or die. And one of these is plucky British firm Caterham.

The cult favourite sports-car company is revered for its commitment to simple, proven engineering. And, it now has a new owner in the form of Japanese company VT Holdings. Owned by former racer Kazuho Takahashi, VT has imported Caterham Sevens into Japan for the last 12 years. Now, it owns the whole shooting box.

Attention turns to just how the brand is going to look as more aggressive EV legislation in both Europe and Japan looms. The brand has confirmed that it plans to continue to make the Seven, although it’s unknown just how they’re going to do that.

“VT Holdings is proud to welcome Caterham to the group,” said Takahashi. “We have not only purchased a globally renowned performance car manufacturer but become custodians of a motoring legend. We will protect and develop the Seven to meet the legislative challenges that lie ahead.”

“Takahashi-san and the team truly understand the DNA of the Caterham brand, our heritage, our customers, and our passions,” said Caterham Cars CEO Graham Macdonald. “As a team, we’re all excited about starting to write the next chapter for this very special brand.”

Making the Seven a fully electric sports car is something that Macdonald has ruled out in the past. Speaking to AutoExpress in 2020, he dismissed the idea — citing costs.

“We recognise that the future is electrification but, as you know, we utilise main brand engines. So we’ve used the Suzuki engine, we use the Ford engines just now – so we wouldn’t be naïve enough to think we could develop our own EV powertrain; we’d be looking to use an off-the-shelf package,” he said.

“We’ve looked into it, but there’s a weight disadvantage to the Caterhams. Part of the mantra of the Caterham is lightweight – ‘just add lightness,’ as we call it. But currently, we think an all-electric powertrain would add more than 300kg to what is, already, about a 500kg car.”

In the wake of the overnight ownership change news, a Caterham spokesperson has issued further comment about the brand’s electrification chances. Speaking to Driving.co.uk, they were less dismissive.

“We’ve always got one eye on the future and embrace new technology when we can,” they said. “While there are no immediate plans in place to develop an electric Seven there is certainly appetite from the new shareholders to explore an electric car in the future.

“We do think there would be interest in an electric Seven, or similar vehicle, under the Caterham name. Currently we do not think the electric drivetrain options available to us would suit the Seven and we aren’t prepared to sacrifice its character and driving experience.

“Technology in this area is obviously moving at a fast pace and we will be ready to embrace the right technology as soon as its available and suitable for our products.”

Another option could be for Caterham to produce an electric SUV in order to offset the carbon emissions and cost of the Seven. In the previously cited 2020 interview, Macdonald didn’t rule out the idea — noting that it could be a case of Caterham latching onto a partner brand.

“A bit like Williams did with the Clio. I see that as a vision for the future, if we can find a partner that’s willing to do that with Caterham – but we certainly won’t be developing an SUV off our own back,” he said.

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