The sports car is part of Caterham’s plan to boost annual production
We speak exclusively to Caterham’s new design chief about the first model of its electrification era
Caterham will showcase its most radical model in decades – a stunning electric two-seat sports car entirely unrelated to the Seven – in a matter of months, Autocar can exclusively reveal.
As first reported by Autocar last year, the Kent-based car maker – now with the backing of Japanese firm VT Holdings – has plans for a totally new model to serve as the spearhead for its transition into the era of electrification.
While it was “just an idea in people’s heads” in September, plans have fast progressed and the new design will be showcased in the coming months as Caterham marks its 50th anniversary.
Leading the design programme is new design chief Anthony Jannarelly, best known for the W Motors Lykan Hypersport and his own Jannarelly Design-1 (pictured below) – a retro-styled, rear-driven sports car with a Nissan V6 and an ultra-light, Le Mans-inspired body.
Working in partnership with Italdesign in Turin, the Frenchman is using this project as an opportunity to “please the existing Caterham fans while also trying to reach another type of audience” for the brand.
Creating this “bridge”, as he put it, is a “big responsibility”, but he is “not nervous, because it’s exciting”.
“I would say at the end it’s an exciting moment. My main hope is people will understand the message coming from Caterham,” he said.
This message is that Caterham’s principles can be carried into and successfully embodied by a completely new product, irrespective of its positioning and the nature of its powertrain.
“The principle is always lightness,” Jannarelly told Autocar. “What everybody loves about the Seven is that it’s a simple car that just works, and even if we’re making an EV, we will try to apply the same philosophy. It’s very simple. There will be no fancy features. The main thing is your enjoyment in driving this car.
“We’re trying to make it as light as possible. So the performance which we will [get] out of it will be just great. And the driving pleasure is a consequence of this lightness. The key words are always simplicity, lightness and driving joy.”
The brand’s enthusiast appeal has also had a strong influence on the new car’s conception, said Jannarelly: “What do you get when you get a Caterham? You get something different than from other cars. If you buy a Caterham, you’re someone a bit more daring; you’re not a mainstream person. And that’s something I’d like to put into the future model.”
Jannarelly has almost total freedom with this car, because the function-over-form Seven “has no styling” as such.
“The next car we’re going to make is the first car where we can really apply what could be the ‘Caterham styling’, which was not a fact of the Seven, which came from the Lotus ,” he explained.
Beyond confirming that it won’t have a long bonnet and won’t be “bulky”, Jannarelly stopped short of giving strong clues as to the shape and size of the new model, although he did point to the slimness and simplicity of an EV architecture as facilitators for improved packaging and compactness.
Jannarelly’s commitment to lightness and simplicity tallies with Caterham CEO Bob Laishley’s passion for maintaining the brand’s hallmarks.
“This will definitely not be a Seven,” Laishley previously said about the EV. “But it will have all the characteristics today’s Caterham customers know well: lightness, simplicity, agility and performance.”
He continued: “Like the Seven, it will have a steel spaceframe – but a different one – because they’re easy to modify in production if you need to. It will have a six-panel enveloping body in aluminium or carbonfibre: two sills, two doors plus clamshell openings front and rear. It will be prettier and more modern than a Seven – those will be big points of distinction – and maybe it will have a roof. We’re designing it as a pure EV from the start, with rear drive only, and it will be registered under SVA rules.”
It’s not yet clear if Caterham will reveal a concept car or a pre-production prototype this year, but Laishley hinted at a plan to build the EV in a new factory – recently opened in Dartford – at greater volumes than the Seven and for it to have a higher base price.
Caterham hasn’t suggested an on-sale date for the new car, but VT Holdings CEO Kazuho Takahashi’s eagerness to see it reach production suggests it could come as soon as 2026.
Q&A: Anthony Jannarelly, chief designer, Caterham
What drew you to Caterham?
“A Caterham was the first car I bought when I moved to Dubai, and that was a bit surprising, because I was a designer of a €3 million supercar [the W Motors Lykan], but actually what I wanted to drive was this very lightweight, back-to- basics retro sports car.”
Is it daunting to create an all-new Caterham model?
“If you expect something like the Seven, it’s not. Even if you asked me to redesign the Seven, we wouldn’t know what to do, because the beauty of the car is that form follows function, so anything you try to add or modify is pointless. So it’s difficult to try to analyse it too much. [The new car] has to have some similarities in the experience it gives you and the overall approach to design concept, but it can’t be something close to the Seven. That’s going to be the difficult thing, maybe, for some people to accept.”
How will electrification influence the design?
“The beauty of electric technology is that you have a lot of space everywhere. The only issue for a sports car is the battery pack in the lower part of the car, so you need to find some tricks to make sure that the car doesn’t get too high. But once you’ve done that, you’re mainly free: you put your four wheels and you really try to be as close as possible to the bones of the car. An electric car platform is very skinny and simple. For me, that’s a great opportunity to apply the DNA of Caterham, which is simplicity.”