Mike Rutherford unearths a brave new manufacturer and a range of electric vehicles conceived in England and born in Wales
It's very rare for a British newspaper to
announce the birth of a brand new, truly British motor company.
Especially when the firm is producing affordable new cars and vans with
newly recruited British workers at a new British factory. But Telegraph
Motoring can exclusively make such an announcement today.
|Switched on: the launch of the Zevan and its stablemate, the Zecar, marks the debut
of a new British motor manufacturer, Stevens Vehicles|
newest manufacturer is Stevens Vehicles Ltd and it is launching itself
this weekend with a modest, two-vehicle line-up consisting of the Zecar
and the Zevan. Daft names? At first glance, yes. But the "Ze" actually
means something, which is more than can be said for some car names.
plan is that there will be several variations on the "Ze" theme,
including convertible, pick-up, beach buggy and long wheelbase
derivatives. The Zecab is another definite. But a sleeker, more
seductive Stevens-designed sports car will also go on sale in coupé and
cabriolet forms, badged as the Cipher.
brains, experience and finance are behind the Stevens project. The
factory is on a site at Port Talbot that hasn't previously been used
for vehicle manufacture, and the same goes for the workers. They
generally hail from an area rich in industrial history but are new to
the car-building game, which means they are inexperienced but also
carry no tired old habits from previous automotive employers. The
result is exciting regeneration for an oft-forgotten region, along with
the creation of desperately needed motor industry jobs.
Stevens Vehicles were about to dive into the cut-throat mainstream
market, where conventional cars are churned out at cost price or less,
it would fall before the first hurdle. But Stevens does the
unconventional. The Ze in Zecar and Zevan stands for zero emissions,
and even the sportier Cipher models will be carbon dioxide-free at the
point of use.
course it's a different story when such vehicles are parked, because
they must be plugged into the mains while their lead-acid batteries are
recharged for between six and eight hours. That inevitably generates
carbon at the power station, but the all-electric Ze machines don't
produce pollutants at the roadside.
maverick motor industry veteran Professor Tony Stevens is the man
responsible for designing the Zecar and Zevan, building prototypes and
helping to win over financiers, industrialists, politicians and others
in order to bring his vehicles to market. Now all he has to do is
convince consumers that they should buy them. Prices for the Ze range
have yet to be finalised but will be between £10,000 and £15,000,
approximately the same as a Ford Fiesta.
brings almost half a century's worth of motor industry experience to
the party. Over the decades he's been involved in the engineering,
design and marketing of so many cars and vehicle-related projects at
home and overseas that his CV could fill the entire Motoring section.
He's a technical guy, for sure, but he's also a visionary. As many of
his past projects and ideas have demonstrated, he was and still is
ahead of his time.
Working alongside him is his
son Peter, an international banker who can take care of the investment,
day-to-day running and sales side of the business. The two men have
different skills and working backgrounds but they complement each other
perfectly and both are passionate about their products.
don't know and don't really care if they'd agree, but my feeling is
that their Ze vehicles are deliciously weird. Walk towards and around
them and they look plain ugly from some angles, cute and handsome from
others. Deliberately, I think, they can come across as being a bit
dippy, yet great fun and strangely stylish. Love them or hate them,
they make a strong visual statement with a head-turning presence unlike
many other, smaller electric vehicles. Many people on middle to high
incomes will, I suspect, want to own one in order to say something
about themselves. The icing on the cake is that, for the time being at
least, Zecars and Zevans will be more exclusive than Ferraris.
|Galvanised: Tony and Peter Stevens with their electric creation, the Zevan
parked up without other vehicles around them, it's hard to figure out
how big or small the Ze machines are. They're distinctively tall at 5ft
9in. They occasionally and cleverly give the impression that they're
quite long, but at 9ft 9in from bumper to bumper they are actually
shorter than a Ford Ka.
The driving position is
higher than expected but not uncomfortable; Tony Stevens decided that
the driver should be perched high in the sort of position one assumes
at a table. This makes access very easy and allows a commanding view.
There's still plenty of headroom and vast storage space around the
simple dashboard. This is a proper five-door car for five occupants and
Not that the Zecar is aimed at
families who make long trips. Its maximum speed is 56mph and with
standard batteries the range is, at best, only 56 miles. But enticing
"back-up battery solutions" are available as optional extras (future
technologies under development include non-hydrogen fuel cells and
bio-diesel hybrids ) and it's worth bearing in mind the potential cost
advantages of electric propulsion, including exemption from various
parking and congestion charges. Partly because it isn't subject to
road-fuel taxation, electricity costs a fraction of petrol or diesel
and Stevens claims the Zecar will cost less than 2p per mile to run. No
less important, in-house tests and feedback from the Transport Research
Laboratory (TRL) lead the company to claim "world class safety
standards", although the Zecars have not been subjected to NCAP crash
I found such claims reassuring as I
tentatively turned the key, floored the pedal and launched the machine
away from a standstill - the acceleration certainly felt like the
claimed 0-30mph in 8.5 seconds. Actually, the Zecar is more sprightly
than its appearance suggests, with a usefully tight turning circle
similar to that of a London taxi. But it's quite noisy, due a
combination of brushless AC motors, a toothed belt drive to the rear
wheels, tyre and wind noise plus a few other factors, not least the
high mileage of the vehicle I was driving. According to a remarkably
honest Tony Stevens, it had been "cut and carved a bit" while being
developed, improved and generally abused on the test track and remote
public roads prior to the start of full-scale production. Showroom cars
should be considerably better, and they will need to be.
Tony Stevens, these Welsh-built Zecars and Zevans are just the
beginning. His other baby is the Cipher, which started life as a
concept car in the 1980s, is now subject to ongoing development and
could still go on sale with an electric engine, capable of 70mph and a
But it doesn't end there. Before
he retires Stevens intends to establish small Ze plants in rural areas
across the developing world. The production line and other essential
tools and materials can be delivered by a single lorry and rapidly
begin full-scale production with an output flexible enough to meet the
peaks and troughs of local demand. That means no compounds full of
empty vehicles without buyers.
manufacturing concept, which Stevens refers to as Global Village
Transport (GVT), makes a lot of business and environmental sense. For
him, son Peter and Stevens Vehicles Ltd, it was England yesterday,
Wales today, and tomorrow the world.
Stevens Zecar/Zevan [tech/spec]
Zecar about £15,000 (inc VAT), Zevan £11,995 (plus VAT). Discounts may
be available to customers placing the very first orders and/or willing
to pay 25 per cent deposits. See the new website, launched today, at www.stevensvehicles.co.uk and for more information email email@example.com (vehicle sales, factory/finance matters) or firstname.lastname@example.org (research and future projects).
Engine/transmission: two maintenance-free
brushless AC motors giving 140lb ft of torque, maintenance-free toothed
belt drive to rear wheels, maintenance-free sealed lead-acid gel
Performance: top speed 56 mph, 0-40mph
in 15 seconds, running cost 1-2p per mile, range 56 miles, on-road CO2
emissions nil (congestion charge free).
Quirky styling, standard vehicle parts, driving position, turning
circle, spacious interior, low running costs, free parking and
congestion tax exemptions.
We don’t like:
Noise, limited range, higher than expected prices.
There is no other five-seat electric car on sale in Britain. For
low CO2 emissions consider Bluemotion diesel versions of Volkswagen
Polo/Golf/Caddy, or petrol-electric hybrids such as the Honda Civic IMA
or Toyota Prius.