Why are Caterham making an EV? | Thank Frankel it's Friday

23rd June 2023
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

It seems strange that the very first electric car from what we’d recognised as a mainstream manufacturer was a two seat sportscar. Pre-dating even the Nissan Leaf, the 2008 Tesla Roadster was the first snowflake of what would shortly become a small snowball and is today a rampaging avalanche of EVs.


But not only was the Tesla Roadster the first EV sportscar and so far at least it has also been the last. And when I drove it up the Goodwood Hill in period, it was not hard to see why. It was certainly novel and unquestionably rapid, but so too was it heavy, silent and devoid of all those things we love about driving cars: listening to its voice, changing gears, getting involved…

So perhaps it’s no great surprise that it’s taken 15 years of technological advancements for anyone to seriously consider doing an EV sportscar. Perhaps the more surprising is that it's Caterham that's planning on doing it.

Yes, that Caterham. The Caterham whose entire product lineup today is based upon a car designed in the 1950s; the Caterham whose last attempt to expand its offering in the mid-1990s went so badly the project was canned after fewer than 50 of the pretty ‘21’ roadsters were built. If nothing else, you’ve got to admire the chutzpah.


But it’s serious. Serious enough to show not one, but two concept cars. One of them is a rolling test bed prototype called the EV Seven (I wonder why they decided against the open goal that was calling it the SEVen?), revealed a few weeks ago with a 240bhp electric motor, a 0-60mph time of less than four seconds, an all up weight of under 700kg and a charging time that, in theory at least, will provide 20 minutes flat-out track driving for every 15 minutes on charge.

The second prototype, the Caterham Project V, was teased on Wednesday and will be revealed to the world at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard on July 12. This is more of a design study and the image released so far reveals the silhouette of a sleek two-seat coupe that, so far as can be determined, stands a good chance of being utterly gorgeous.

So the clear inference is that the powertrain of the EV Seven will find its way into the body of the Project V and soon, perhaps as soon as 2026, an electric Caterham sportscar with supercar proportions will be put into production.


Which begs a few questions, primarily why Caterham, and why now? The answer to the first comes in two parts. It is clear that, sooner or later, all car manufacturers are going to have to bite the EV bullet and for Caterham, it’s a lot easier than for most. As it has with every internal combustion engine it's ever used, Caterham can just pluck an EV motor and battery pack off the peg and adapt for its own use. It’s probably even easier with an EV than an ICE. The second point is that, unlike almost all other kinds of EV, range is a far less sensitive subject with a car as recreational as a Caterham. As long as it can do 150 miles or so range alone is unlikely to prove a persuasive reason not to buy one. This means it only needs to have a small battery, which means it need not abandon the brand’s half-century devotion to lightness above all.

And that probably answers the question of why we’re seeing it now. For it was a pub in Primrose Hill, North London in July 1973 that Caterham’s Graham Nearn signed the papers with Colin Chapman assigning all rights to the Seven and, in the process, transforming Caterham Cars from a car dealer to a car manufacturer in its own right. If you’re going to make a big announcement, there’d seem to be few better occasions to do it than your 50th birthday.

So far as the Seven is concerned, I am sure it will continue to be built and powered by internal combustion engines for as long as such things are allowed. The new Caterham EV will be purely additional to the range and surely aimed at an entirely different kind of customer, rather than cannibalising customers it already has. I’d expect the EV to be more civilised, better equipped and more expensive and aimed at those who find pleasure in a perhaps a gentler form of driving than the traditional Seven customer. As for me, I just can’t wait to see it.

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