CAR interviews Caterham’s COO David Ridley: why they’re shaking up the range

Published: 28 April 2015

► We interview Caterham’s COO
► David Ridley on booming business
► Inside line on Caterham’s fortunes

Caterham Cars is on a roll. For 42 years the Caterham (née Lotus) Seven has been in production, but in 2015 the maker of the most astounding road-legal go-karts has undergone a raft of far-reaching changes that looks set to put it on course for unprecedented sales success. 

We buttonholed David Ridley, Caterham stalwart since 2000, the man behind Caterham’s export programme, and the company’s chief commercial officer, to talk new models, exporting to China and why Formula 1 is finally paying dividends.

CAR : 2015 is shaping up to look like a record-setting year for Caterham. How has this been achieved?

DR : ‘Well, 2014 was a significant year for Caterham Cars because we expanded our export market, selling into new markets including China, Columbia, Dubai, Malaysia, Taiwan and Turkey. That’s 25 export markets for us. This boosted our export sales to 345 cars in 2014, up 6% 315 in 2013. In total we sold just under 500 cars in 2014, and with the appeal of our revised range, our popular racing Academy plus our expanding export markets we’re expecting sales to nudge 600 sales over the next 12 months. That may sound like a small number of cars compared to the big players, but as a percentage increase that represents 20% growth over two years.’

Does Caterham have the capacity to meet demand?

‘Yes, we have the capacity to build more cars – that’s not an issue for us at all.’

China, Taiwan and Dubai… Not where you’d expect to find a Caterham salesroom…

‘Caterham’s foray into F1 may have netted a lot of headlines for all the wrong reasons – it was a challenging time – but the flipside was the exposure it gave us to markets that had never heard of us. Small volumes for new markets is what we’re after; small wins, sure, but half a dozen new markets a year selling 10 or 15 cars each soon adds up for us.’

Can you explain the strategy behind the new range?

‘While we at Caterham understood the difference between Superlight, Roadsport and Superlight, from the outside it was perhaps a little tricky to understand, a point made by [Caterham Cars owner] Tony Fernandez when he first came on board. He effectively initiated the rebranding and restructuring.’

And the new names you’ve chosen?

‘The models are named after their rough rather than their exact power-to-weight ratio. It’s an easily understood engineering-based naming convention – the higher the number, the greater the performance and the higher the price. The 160 and 620R were the first cars to debut with the new branding range, and we’ve just launched the 270, 360 and 420 models. I expect the sales to be split equally between R and S models. We also unveiled a bespoke 275 model for some of our export markets. In the UK, we expect the 270 and 360 to grab most of the sales. Response to the 160 has been reasonable, but we are limited in supply by Suzuki and Japanese sales take priority. The 620R has also been incredibly popular.’

Attend any Caterham owners club meeting and you’ll not see two cars alike. Will this new line-up and simplification of options mean a reduction in the ability of buyers to personalise their cars?

‘We won’t lose our ability to personalise our cars. That’s  a vital part of who we are and what we do. We’ll be looking to expand the range and scope of personalisation over the next few years, once our new range and branding has bedded in.’

Can you explain the enduring appeal of the Caterham Seven?

‘They offer a driving experience than no other car at the price can match. And they’re also pretty solid as an automotive investment. The residuals on Caterhams are unbelievable. Very few other cars hang onto their value like our cars do. Throw in low cost of ownership and you have a car that’s awesome to drive and run.’

Click here to find out how CAR magazine is getting on with its Caterham Seven 160 long-term test car.

By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars