Wednesday, 22 January 2014

David Brown will have a tough job developing a new sports car

IMAGINE the biggest number you can think of and then multiply it by ten. Nope, you’re still nowhere near how much it costs to develop a new car.

It’s such a fantastically enormous quantity of money that it hurts your head thinking about it. VW, for instance, threw £50bn at developing what it calls the MQB platform, which in layman’s English refers to the bits and bobs which hold the current Golf, Audi A3 and its family cousins together. Spend much less and you get the David Simisters of this world poking fun at the fact your latest sales rep special has a cheap-feeling dashboard.

My point is that because it costs such an extraordinary amount of cash to develop a new car properly, very few firms can actually afford to, which is why MG Rover went bust and why – despite the best efforts of the Chinese – you haven’t been able to buy a new Saab for nearly three years. It’s why Aston Martin’s ‘new’ models are always thinly-disguised rehashes of the decade-old DB9 and why Fiat ended up buying Chrysler outright the other week. Virtually no one can afford to develop a car.

Which is why I’m just a bit cynical about what’s roughly the 327th attempt by a British businessmen to set up his own sports car company.

Last weekend I got word of David Brown’s efforts to set up his own firm, called David Brown Automotive. The name’s great – chiefly because it immediately conjures connotations of a (non-related) David Brown’s involvement in Aston Martin, which led to a string of beautiful GT cars – and the badge, a stylised Union Flag, pushes all the right patriotic buttons. He’s got talent on board too, in the form of Land Rover’s former design boss, and he’s confident he get a new car, as if from nowhere, ready to wow us this April.

It’s bold, it’s British, and it’s a new sports car. But haven’t we heard all this before?

For every Ariel Atom or Caterham there’s a Marcos or a Jensen, or an Invicta or a Lea-Francis, that has promised to take on Johnny Foreigner with a new sports car developed for about 50p – and subsequently vanished without trace. There are handful that crack this toughest of automotive nuts, but I’ve just got a horrible feeling that the David Brown will join all the other old sports cars you’d forgotten existed.

I would love, of course, to be proven wrong and for a plucky Brit to come good for a change. Sadly, I have my doubts.

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