So what makes Zenos Cars so different from the rest of herd? And why do we get the impression that it will flourish rather than fail in the years to come? Four reasons.
One, they came up with a price point for the entry-level car first – an enticing £24,995 – and designed and built the car to that price afterwards. More often than not, people make the mistake of doing that part the other way round, which more often than not can prove disastrous.
Two, they came up with a brand structure that already includes two further models so that potential customers can buy into the long-term future of the brand, because they can already see into that future.
Three, they have employed a small band of people who already know the sports car business inside and out, and who really do care about what they are doing.
Four, they decided from the outset to make the customer king, which isn’t always the case with start-up British sports car companies. Hence the reason that Zenos has already embarked on a unique customer testing programme in which people who want to buy can, and have, driven the first prototypes.
In 20-odd years of writing about cars, that’s a first in my experience. Quite why no one else has tried it before is one of those things that seems so obvious, but only with the benefit of hindsight.
At the moment, there are two test mules for customers to sample: the basic E10 and more track-orientated E10S.
Both use the same fundamental chassis and suspension design, which consists of a hybrid construction of aluminium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic, on to which double wishbones are bolted at each corner with “affordable” Ford-sourced parts being used as much as possible elsewhere – for the brakes, steering, engine, gearbox, loom, ECU and so on.
The central tub is made from the same material that BMW uses to such good effect in the i3 and i8 and it works, says Ali, “because it’s UK sourced, which is an important factor for us, and is 70 per cent as stiff and light as full carbonfibre yet costs a tenth of the price”.
The name Zenos stands for a combination of Zen – a state of enlightenment that focuses togetherness of body and mind – and Os, which loosely translated means ‘spine’. The secondary explanation of ‘Zen’ is probably the most appropriate in this instance because “it necessitates dropping the illusion and seeing things for what they are without distortion created by preconception or prejudice”.
What you see is what you get, in other words, and, in the E10’s case, what you get looks very good indeed. For £24,995, you get a 200bhp 2.0-litre Ford-engined two-seater with a hybrid carbon/aluminium tub with double-wishbone suspension and a five-speed manual gearbox – all with a quoted kerb weight of just 690kg and a 0-60mph time of 4.5sec, plus a top speed of 135mph.
Go up a step on the ladder to the E10S and the price rises to £29,995 but that brings an eco-boost turbocharger to the party, which produces another 50bhp and drops the 0-60mph time to 4.0sec. In the fullness of time, there will be two more models, the E11 roadster, plus a coupé version of the same car, the E12, both of which will be like the E10 but a fair bit more dynamic.
Ali’s philosophy is to get customers hooked on the brand with the relatively simple and affordable E10, and then to keep them entertained for years to come with faster, more expensive models.