Caterham boss: “Autonomous and electric cars are an opportunity”

Caterham Seven at 60

Caterham boss Graham Macdonald tells Steve Cropley how new production techniques and a focus on driving pleasure will keep the firm relevant for years to come

To the naked eye, the Dartford street occupied by Caterham Cars doesn’t much resemble the ‘broad sunlit uplands’ of Churchill’s famous speech, even though the statesman lived nearby.

Instead, Kennet Avenue is crowded, down at heel and industrial, and its best vista features a sandwich van at the end of the road. Even so, when you consider Caterham’s rapidly improving financial performance and prospects, maybe the allusion works.

This manufacturer of the now 60-yearold Seven sports car has sprung back to its best after a decade of uncertainty that was fuelled first by the collapse of its engine and chassis suppliers, and then, bizarrely, by its own over-ambition.

Today, led by an optimistic and financially savvy CEO, Graham Macdonald, Caterham Cars is working again at full capacity. There’s a 12-month waiting list and the company’s morale and quality have both been boosted by new manufacturing methods. Best of all, Caterham is earning solid profits again and knows how to do even better.

As most enthusiasts know, the company was established in 1973 by Lotus dealer Graham Nearn, whose aim was to keep building the ultrasimple Lotus Seven sports roadster after Lotus founder Colin Chapman killed it because he felt it lacked the sophistication of a contemporary Lotus. When Sevens couldn’t be Lotuses any more, the ever-practical Nearn named them after the location of his showroom, so customers could always find him. It worked.

By the early 1980s Nearn had outgrown his headquarters and moved to Dartford, where the company rolled along happily until about 1990, when difficulties started arising. First there was an early 1990s recession, then during the recovery, Seven demand began to be affected by the success of rivals, notably Westfield.

In 2005 Caterham Cars was sold to a private equity company, Corvin, whose targets and ambitions were considerably more aggressive than the founder’s. But just as Corvin’s new men, Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards, were reshaping things, the Rover Group collapsed and Caterham’s supply of K-series engines ceased overnight.

Macdonald, unusual for his equal love of figures and cars, had just arrived as financial director. “Those were tough times,” he recalls. “First there was the complication of changing from Rover engines to Ford, and then our chassis builder went bust. We’d moved to a new supplier in Westbury, Wiltshire, with the aim of saving money and scaling up from 10 to 15 chassis a week.

“The supplier bought expensive equipment for the job, but it didn’t earn its keep and the costs sent them over the edge. We bought their business and convinced the bank to sell the new equipment. These days we have 20 people in Westbury handjigging and hand-welding chassis from laser-cut components we buy in from suppliers. It works fine.”

By 2009 Corvin wanted to sell and eventually found Tony Fernandes, a Malaysian-based entrepreneur known for his rapid expansion of budget airline Air Asia. Within weeks Fernandes (who had wanted Lotus but been frustrated) announced aggressive plans to expand Caterham’s horizons far beyond anything Nearn or anyone else could have conceived.

He rapidly acquired the former Team Lotus (rebadged Caterham F1) and established a Caterham Technology and Innovation (CTI) centre in Hingham, Norfolk.

He also agreed a joint venture with Renault to produce moderndesign Caterhams that would share key components and be sold around the world in partnership with Renault’s revived Alpine range.

They were bold plans that looked risky from the start, and it hardly helped that by 2012 Caterham’s two principals, Ali and Edwards, had departed to start their own venture, later revealed as the Norfolk-based Zenos sports car company. That left Macdonald holding a particularly lively and troublesome baby – at which stage his role was upgraded to that of CEO.

Macdonald tried to improve things at Kennet Road, and there was plenty to do. “There were no financial controls,” he says, “and although, like now, every Seven was built to order, nobody really knew how long it took to build one. We also had problems with wastage and supplier shortages. Cars were always getting held up because bits didn’t arrive.”

However, bigger stuff was happening at CTI in Hingham, and with the F1 team, very little of which was good news. By early 2014 the Renault joint venture had “concluded” and the F1 team was losing “millions a month”. Both needed winding up and Macdonald, now appointed group CEO, was put in charge of the tasks. Macdonald began a period of frenetic world travel to meetings with owner Fernandes, whose airline was by now encountering its own challenges.

The F1 team went to Colin Kolles in June 2014 and CTI finally closed its doors in February 2015, with most of its 100 engineers going to Jaguar Land Rover, McLaren or Lotus – although not before they’d done some preliminary engineering on the Suzuki-engined Caterham Seven 160, the £16,995 entry-level car that has since become a big success. When things began to calm down, Macdonald went straight back to his base in Kennet Road and swears he was glad to do so.

When you meet him in his unprepossessing office, you can instantly see how perfect Macdonald must have seemed to Fernandes for the difficult job that needed doing. Here was a fully trained accountant, a natural-born optimist who’d already worked in big industry but who had also grown up with a car enthusiast father and spent much time as a teenager mending his MG Midget and Triumph Spitfire.

Macdonald swears he has grown to love Caterham and its cars as much as the customers do, to the extent of spending his own money on them. He has a personal 620S and this year will scratch a longfelt itch by joining owners at the 2017 Caterham Academy, racing a car he has just finished building with his own hands from a kit. The programme will be fun, he expects, but it will also give him fresh insight into customers’ needs.

Talking business, Caterham is very much back on the rails. It already holds more than 600 forward orders, which means every 2017 car already has a name against it. The 60-off batch of retro-styled, Suzuki-engined Sprint models, announced at last summer’s Goodwood Revival, sold out in a week, and UK sales growth has been “tremendous”.

Macdonald, who admits that at times his instinct for good sense blunted Fernandes’s ambition, is very much the captain of the ship now and is doing things his way. The company has just replaced its old-style production line with a ‘cell’ assembly system.

One technician assembles a car from start to finish, and that has improved quality and greatly enhanced Caterham people’s pride in the job – as several told me themselves.

Caterham will make 540 cars this year and has designs on 575 next year – right on the limit of the factory’s capacity. The financial news is almost as good. In its latest half-year, the company has turned a respectable annualised net profit of £300,000 on a £20 million turnover, and Macdonald says it will improve.

Building Sevens is solidly profitable, he says, and will continue that way. As far ahead as you care to look, enthusiasts will want driving pleasure.

“Every time someone talks about autonomous or electric cars,” he says, “I see it as an opportunity.”

Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG003S aims for 6:37 Nürburgring record lap

Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG003S revealed

American car maker wants to beat the Porsche 918 Spyder’s time by 30sec; it claims performance is ‘not far off a Formula 1 car’

The Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG003S hypercar will attempt to break the Nürburgring lap record ahead of its world debut at the 2017 Geneva motor show.

The American car maker is targeting a lap time that’s close to 30sec faster than the current production record of 6min 57sec, which is held by the Porsche 918 Spyder. If it achieves this, it will be within 20sec of the all-time Nordschleife record of 6min 11sec, which was set by Stefan Bellof in a Porsche 956 Group C racing car in 1983.

SCG has confirmed that the SCG003S uses a 4.4-litre twin-turbo engine, but further details are scarce. The engine is likely to be a V8, and the car is predicted to have a 0-62mph time of less than 3sec and top speed in excess of 217mph.

SCG is also aiming to make the SCG003S the fastest-cornering car on sale – a goal not dissimilar to that of Aston Martin with its AM-RB 001 hypercar. SCG claims that the car can generate 2G of lateral force.

The SCG003S shares the same carbonfibre monocoque chassis as its SCG003 sibling and will be built in very limited numbers, with Glickenhaus aiming to make the SCG003S “a collectible car like no other”. The cars, being hand-built, will feature bespoke elements, making each car unique.

Following the car’s launch next month it will enter production in the middle of the year. No pricing has been revealed, but expect a significant increase on the £1.6 million commanded for the regular SCG003.

Analysis: how PSA could make Opel profitable again

Vauxhall plant

General Motors Europe has been losing money since 1999, but there could be some ways to turn the Opel brand around under PSA ownership

Making financial sense of the PSA plan to buy General Motors Europe (GME) is not easy according to city analysts. 

GME lost money from 1999 to 2016. The company estimated that it would have crept into the black last year, but the Brexit vote and the fall in the value of the UK Pound clobbered the bottom line.

Opel brand to remain German if PSA sale goes through

Analysts at Evercore ISI say that there are good reasons why General Motors might want to sell – or even effectively give away – its European arm over and above recent losses, which ISI estimates at £1.3bn over the last three years alone.

GME is estimated to be using around just 72 percent of its factory capacity, which is another money-loser in a market that offers super-tight margins for mass-market brands.

But cutting jobs and factory space is very difficult in Germany and both the French and German governments were quick to demand meetings with GME and PSA bosses to try and stop any merger or buy-out turning into a jobs rout. Without a big leap in car sales, GME overcapacity remains close to unfixable.

What happened last time Peugeot bought a company

But ISI have identified another reason why General Motors might want to off-load its European arm. GME’s German engineering base has been responsible for both diesel engine development and the creation of high-value compact car architectures, such that underpinning the new Astra.

The problem, says ISI, is that the cost of cleaning up diesel engines will probably make them too expensive for post 2020 superminis and hatchbacks. This will result in a serious shrinkage of diesel development at Opel. 

Why would PSA want to buy Opel and Vauxhall?

Also, vehicles such as the new Astra are more expensively engineered and contain higher level of content than in any other global market. The upshot is that European superminis and compact cars are just inherently too expensive to be sold outside of Western Europe in any numbers.

As a result, the part of today’s GME that’s likely to be immediately hardest hit by any PSA takeover is the research and development division. ISI estimates that GME spent around £850m in research and development and capital expenditure in 2016. As part of PeugeotCitroen that sum would be brought crashing down. 

Any future Opel and Vauxhall models would eventually be re-launched on PSA platforms and a great deal of investment in petrol and (big) diesel engines would come under existing PSA R&D. PSA’s Carlos Tavares has a track record of cutting costs, something he did at Renault and, more recently, at Peugeot-Citroen.

So a combination of big reductions in R&D spending at Opel and Tavares cost-cutting at Opel/Vauxhall could immediately stop the losses at GME. However, any future profitability gains would have to wait until all of the Opel/Vauxhall range were based on PSA technology.

With the new Insignia just around the corner, that could take at least four years.

Opinion: why the UK is terrified of building roads

Opinion: why the UK is terrified of building roads

Air quality is a problem, but why are we moving houses away from roads rather than building bypasses to ease traffic?

In one of last week’s less shocking news items, a council in Cornwall has suggested that the best way to meet local air quality targets could be to move people out of the affected areas.

Yes, that’s ‘moving them’ as in, ‘compulsorily buying families’ homes and relocating them in new houses that have been built farther away from the traffic congestion’.

Presto, they breathe easier, only a bit farther away. The new homes would still be nearby, obviously. They’re not monsters!

Funny old world, when this is one of the less odd things going on in it. I don’t imagine it will happen, although it does have the ring of an ‘all options on the table’ idea that gets mentioned between biscuit breaks and which everybody is slightly surprised to find bulldozers acting on five years later.

And it’s peculiar that a region whose income is based around people visiting its historic towns and enjoying its communities, open spaces and fresh air – but which is blighted by the time it takes to get to and around the place – wonders if the best way to improve things is to put houses on the open spaces and devastate the communities but leave visiting traffic stationary and thus not make Cornwall any easier to visit, or its air any cleaner.

Apparently it’s cheaperthan building bypasses, even though we have a housing crisis and I thought that new houses had roads going to and from them. So instead of one bypass, you build houses served by congested minor roads.

It’s an example of how phobic about building roads we’ve become.

Which is a pity, because I know how a bypass transformed Petersfield town centre, where I grew up, and how much cleaner and more pleasant Hindhead is since they put a tunnel under it. In both cases – in all bypass cases – it deals with the problem, by taking vehicles away from houses and keeping traffic moving.

The alternative is that the car continues to be demonised, which is stupid, because we need it. London did it when it built bus stops that extend into the road so cars couldn’t overtake and phased traffic lights to deliberately slow traffic.

Turns out there’s nothing quite so bad for air quality as a running engine that’s going nowhere. Who knew?

But still the vilification continues. This week Westminster Council said it will increase the amount it costs to park diesel cars there. London is to increase the congestion charge for diesels.

VW has hardly improved the reputation of the diesel, but in neither case are these authorities acknowledging the quantity of harmful particulates that come from vans, taxis, buses or lorries. And in neither case does it do anything to improve anything but the bottom line of the council’s finances.

The thing is, it’s not like experts – come on, some of us do still listen to them – don’t understand this. In one 2012 report, titled ‘Understanding the Value and Impacts of Transport Investment’, the Department for Transport concluded that: “In simple terms, the better our transport system, the more of our lives we can spend being productive and doing the things we enjoy, with the people we care about, in a better environment.”

Governments and councils would do well to remember it.

Audi SQ7 long-term test review: first report

Audi SQ7 long-term test review

Audi’s new high-performance seven-seat SUV hit the mark in our road test, but how will it handle the reality of family life? We’re about to find out

Forget the bells and whistles: our new Audi SQ7 is the full symphony.

A harmonic of soft hide, brushed metal, muted ambient lighting, brute power and high-end tech. Lavishly equipped as standard yet laden with more than £24,000 of extra kit, it’s plush and then some.

For starters on the ‘included’ list of our super-SUV, there is the wondrous 4.0-litre V8 diesel, complete with three blowers. Yup, three. But you probably know that since we talked all about it in the Autocar road test, where it got 4.5 stars. I won’t dwell on it long here. Suffice to say that in the brief time I’ve had the car, the stupidly potent ocean of torque and the menacing burble from the exhausts are things of which I will never, ever tire. I’m also impressed at how well the car rides on the standard adaptive air suspension, even on the optional (£500) Tornado 21in alloy wheels.

It’s not only the mechanical bits that are impressive as standard. Also thrown in is the full-fat sat-nav and multimedia system, digital dials, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, four-zone climate control, LED headlights, all-round parking sensors, a reversing camera, automatic lights and wipers, powered bootlid, keyless go… you get the picture. Frankly, it’s an achievement to have found more than £24,000 of equipment that can be added to a car as generously equipped as the SQ7, but that’s what has been achieved here, and we’re hardly complaining.

If I were to actually dwell in detail on all the options, we’d be here for the entire six-month duration of the car’s loan. So we’ll address the highlights now and touch more on the rest throughout the Audi’s stay.

The most expensive extra is the £5700 Driving Dynamics Sports Pack. All-wheel steering, sports differential and active anti-roll bars are all to be found in this pack and – again, read more in the road test – it certainly works.

A panoramic sunroof – always a popular addition in this class of car – comes in at £1700. To further keep the kids happy, two removable tablet screens adorn the back of the front seats (called Audi Entertainment Mobile and priced at £1180), while a Bose 3D sound system (£1100) takes the SQ7 a step closer to being a mobile music and entertainment magnum opus. Something called an Audi Phone Box – not, in fact, a phone box – will wirelessly charge your phone, should your phone be newfangled enough. That costs £450.

Giving the SQ7 the ability to steer itself into parking spaces costs £1500 and having a key that can tell the car who’s driving and activate their saved seating position is £950.

Tick the £1705 Tour Pack box and the car gains mystical, preemptive skills. The big Audi will autonomously stop and crawl in time with sluggish traffic, automatically stop from 19mph if it senses a collision and even apply steering force to try to point the car away from the potential accident if a suitable escape route is spotted by the allseeing radar eye. You also have to add this package option if you want the relevant speed limit beamed onto your dashboard. That seems a shame, because some buyers might want the traffic sign recognition without all the rest of it.

This autonomous driving technology has made a dramatic leap forwards of late. Only a couple of years ago, I was adamant that most of it was more interference than assistance. Then I drove the new BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Gone were the sometimes erratic braking responses and unsettling beeps, flashes and steering inputs, and in their place was a reliable, intuitive array of tech that genuinely took the stress out of mundane driving situations. The Audi has made just the same leap, so don’t discount this safety kit. These days, it’s actually useful and effective.

The Audi Matrix LED headlights are another remarkable feature. As with the autonomous driving features mentioned above, it seems to me that automatic high-beam headlights have gone in a very short period of time from being something verging on a dangerous pain in the proverbial to being utterly superb. Audi’s set-up (£950 on the SQ7) is the best I’ve experienced. It’s genuinely extraordinary to see it in action (you can watch the lights shadowing oncoming traffic from the dazzlingly bright lights) and I’ve already come to appreciate it as the days get shorter.

It’s not unreasonable to mention the S-Class and 7 Series in our introduction to the SQ7. These days, upmarket SUVs often tread in much the same buyer demographic as luxury limos, and I have an inkling that the Audi is a more worthy adversary to those ‘proper’ luxury cruisers than any SUV apart from the Range Rover.

 

So this is something we’ll investigate during the rather enviable task of running the SQ7. We know it drives well, but does it live well? Does it live up to the price and the world-class luxury metal that you could also have for your mountain of cash? On top of that, there’s the family question. It seems pretty obvious that a seven-seater of this size will be ideal for any family purposes, but it’s amazing how hefting baby seats and buggies in and out of a car every day can reveal all manner of weird niggles and flaws in a car’s packaging.

In short, to fulfil its brief, the SQ7 needs to be an ideal combination of family runabout, sports SUV and luxury car, with little or no compromise on any of those roles. Only mileage and real-world use will tell how well it truly covers that broad-ranging remit, but if you’ll forgive the vaguely sickening smugness here, I’m already pretty sure that daily use of our big, posh Audi is going to be no chore at all. 

AUDI SQ7 4.0 TDI QUATTRO

Price £70,970 Price as tested £95,160 Options Driving Dynamics Sports Pack £5700, black Valcona leather S Sports Seats Plus £2000, Tour Pack £1705, panoramic glass sunroof £1700, Parking Pack Advanced £1500, head-up display £1350, Trailer Pack £1300, Audi Entertainment Mobile £1180, Bose 3D Sound System £1100, Advanced key £950, Audi Matrix LED headlights £950, Carbon Atlas inlays £800, Sepang Blue pearl paint £675, front seat memory function £550, 21in Tornado alloy wheels £500, Audi Phone Box £450, red brake calipers £400, electrically adjustable steering column £400, rear side airbags £350, ambient lighting £280, heated, electrically folding and auto-dimming door mirrors £200, three-spoke flat-bottomed Sport steering wheel Economy 29.6mpg Faults None Expenses None 

2019 Ford Focus – first spy pics show evolved design of five-door hatch

2019 Ford Focus - first spy pictures show evolved design

Overall dimensions looks unchanged but a longer wheelbase should provide passengers with more legroom; it’ll come with three and four-cylinder engines

The next Ford Focus is ramping up for a 2019 launch, with engineers currently testing late-build prototypes. 

Spotted by Autocar photographers, these images show the fourth-generation model’s real skin beneath a disguise being tested in arctic conditions. Such testing only takes place when the car’s look and specification are mature, to prove that the finished model works well under extreme conditions and to fine-tune its braking and stability electronics.

The new Focus, set to be revealed in early 2018 ahead of a launch the following year, will follow the same evolutionary path as the recently unveiled Fiesta, using Ford’s highly flexible global C-class platform. It will only come as a five-door saloon: Ford is keeping its development funds for making more SUVs, which European president Jim Farley believes are turning into “preferred family cars”. 

The Focus programme’s similarity to the Fiesta’s evolution is no surprise since the project is now under the management of Ford’s small-car guru, Darren Palmer, whose team recently delivered the Fiesta, the Ka+ and a dramatically improved Ecosport B-segment SUV.

The new Focus is unlikely to grow in length or width, but is tipped to have about 50mm more wheelbase to match its rivals for rear legroom. It will also deliver weight savings around 50kg, model for model, though precise figures are still being calculated. Efficiency will be high on the agenda: Ford will undoubtedly improve on the current car’s aerodynamics. It will also launch a new all-electric as one of one of a dozen electric cars promised last year by European chief Farley. The company has also been experimenting with hybrid models, already successful in its US line-up, though there are no sure signs yet of a four generation Focus hybrid.

The new mainstreamer’s engine range will depend heavily on the successful 1.0-litre Ecoboost three-cylinder petrol engine – available in 99, 123 and 138bhp versions – and is likely also to offer 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre petrol units in several power outputs to power its ST-line and “full fat” ST versions. The staple diesel will again be the 1.5 TDCi, though a 2.0-litre diesel may still be offered for ST performance models. Ford has been talking nine- and 10-speed automatics in America for several years but is likely for the time being to stick with its the six-speed Powershift twin-clutch gearbox as the European automatic option. 

One certainty is that Ford will launch a high-riding Focus Active, along lines established by the recently revealed Fiesta Active, to take advantage of burgeoning demand for “lifestyle” models. There will be several models: base cars will have a regular front-wheel-drive system, but there is likely to be an optional four-wheel drive utilising hardware from the existing Kuga SUV. 

Suggestions that there would be no replacement for the current Focus RS appear wide of the mark: Ford sources suggest there may be “at least one more” version of the highly rated 165mph sports hatch in the company’s armoury. Ford chief Farley is known to be keen on such models, which he says do much to boost the image and desirability of the whole Ford range.

Inside, the new Focus will be more carefully packaged than ever, to offer enhanced passenger space in key areas even though it is no bigger externally. The décor will be simpler and more stylish: the company’s designers privately admit they “overdelivered” on dashboard complexity in recent Fiesta and Focus cabins. The fascia, in particular, will be simpler and less claustrophobic, with more functions activated via a prominent central touch-screen.

Ford is still deciding launch details for its fourth-generation Focus. It showed the third-generation model, earmarked for a 2011 launch, at the 2010 Detroit motor show at the beginning of that year, evidently to stress the car’s global credentials and pay homage to the firm’s hometown. No-one inside the Blue Oval’s HQ will yet confirm the car’s arrival date, but the same could very well happen again, which would mean a reveal at the 2018 Detroit motor show. 

Future Ford models to be more region specific

Throwback Thursday 1967: The future of electric cars and the Ford Comuta concept

Ford Comuta cutaway diagram

Our thoughts from 1967 on Ford’s tiny Comuta electric concept car, the future of electric vehicles as a whole and what would eventually replace the internal combustion engine

Although alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) seem modern, the technology they employ is, in fact, ancient.

‘The death of the internal combustion engine’ is a topic that has been discussed within the automotive industry since its very inception, but, until very recently, that discussion may as well have been held in an echo chamber.

Now, nearly every major manufacturer is being proactive with replacing petrol and diesel, and significant sales growth is coming in.

But it has taken a while. If you were to order AFVs by their current likelihood of becoming the future of mainstream personal transport, I would argue the resulting list would go something like this: Electric batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, hybrids, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), biofuel, compressed natural gas (CNG).

However:

CNG has been used to fuel vehicles since as early as the 1930s; the first ethanol (biofuel) engine was built in 1824, and the Ford Model T (1908) could use it, gasoline, or a mixture of both; Porsche built the Mixte PHEV in 1899; The Armstrong Phaeton of 1896 had a petrol engine connected to a dynamo flywheel, which charged a battery; one of the world’s first internal combustion engines, the de Rivaz of 1807, was hydrogen-powered, and that was applied to a car a year later; and experimentation with electric cars dates back to the early 1800s, with experimental electric cars appearing as early as 1867.

Back on 15 June 1967, we here at Autocar were having the very same thoughts about the future of automotive propulsion, although at a time when AFVs were markedly less prevalent, and we envisaged Wankel petrol engines, gas turbines or steam engines to be future possibilities.

“The car engine of the 1990s may not yet have been conceived,” we said. Well, it’s 2017, and we’re still waiting for something else, so it looks (for now) like electricity will be the one – as it did back then, as we took a view on Ford’s tiny electric Comuta prototype, “a practical vehicle of limited performance, designed for restricted use in cities, rather as electric golf buggies are used around a particular golf course”.

A box on wheels little bigger just half the size of a Ford Cortina, yet in which four people could just about squeeze, the Comuta was powered by four 12v 18amp lead batteries, which gave a range of 37 miles and a top speed of 37mph. Just like a milk float (of which there were nearly 50,000 in the UK by 1970).

“Ford’s announcement of the Comuta is mainly to put the present state of the electric car into perspective,” we said. “It is also to show that Ford is interested in tackling the problems posed and are pleased to let the public know about it.”

We could certainly envisage a future for the Comuta. “Suppose an area in the centre of London were closed to all road traffic as we know it,” we said. “The authorities then place an order for 50,000 small electric public vehicles to transport people from and to perimeter garages to destinations and back.

“We do not doubt that something suitable could be produced at not too high a price, within five years. The same basic vehicle could be van, taxi and self-drive car with maybe coin box payment.”

That electric cars produce “no exhaust noise, virtually no fumes,” and were far more reliable than internal combustion engines at the time also appealed – although electric cars were “not very quiet” back then. Much the same reasons as we laud them now, unsurprisingly, although the latter statement is now reversed.

However, the issues surrounding electric cars which present themselves now were naturally even more obstructive in 1967, given the technology available. The only feasible electric car battery was a lead-acid one, as more sophisticated units, such those made from silver zinc, achieved a much better power-to-weight ratio, but were far more expensive to produce and hugely increased running costs.

Now, of course, we have the advantage of lithium ion batteries, which were invented in the 1970s.

And while there were suggestions of Ford experimenting with sodium-sulphur batteries – estimated to kick range up to 200 miles, amazing even for nowadays – little came of it, and after having spent some £10 million (around £160 million today) on researching electric car technology, Ford withdrew to ‘await a breakthrough in battery technology’ just a few years later. Familiar wording!

“With the exception of the electrical control equipment, electric car design has progressed very little in some 50 years,” Autocar lamented back in 1967.

“Now a great deal of research is in hand, particularly on power supply, which could lead to rapid developments.”

Alas, Autocar and Ford’s suggestion of having Comuta-style cars commercially feasible by 1977 came nowhere near fruition, and we still await a true challenge to the petrol and diesel now, another 40 years on.

But it now looks now more likely than ever that in half a century’s time, we’ll look back at fossil fuels as a long-gone anachronism. So here’s hoping that nobody will be writing a Throwback Thursday about this very article in 2067 to a similar tone as I just have.