Dream machines still need hard cash

Two stories this week bear testimony to the talent of British entrepreneurship. Historic British marque Jensen is to be revived with a brand new luxury sports car; and Richard Noble, the man behind the record-breaking supersonic ThrustSSC, has announced plans to develop a revolutionary `air taxi’ to ferry executives between under-used airfields. However, the two […]

Two stories this week bear testimony to the talent of British entrepreneurship. Historic British marque Jensen is to be revived with a brand new luxury sports car; and Richard Noble, the man behind the record-breaking supersonic ThrustSSC, has announced plans to develop a revolutionary `air taxi’ to ferry executives between under-used airfields.

However, the two display a huge contrast in their approach.

Behind Jensen stand three men with over a century’s combined experience in the motor industry. Keith Rauer and Robin Bowyer used the resources of their Creative Group consultancy to develop the car, and had the vision to acquire the rights to the Jensen name when it became available. They brought on board Graham Morris, ex-chief executive of Rolls-Royce cars, as chairman. Morris took a critical look at the Jensen business plan, took a conservative view of profits, and convinced himself the plan was viable. A crucial factor is the decision to use a proven powertrain off the shelf, and the ability to use low-cost tooling techniques developed by Creative to ensure build quality.

Raising funding to put the car into production was far from easy, but the plan was robust enough to sign up 20 private investors and attract nearly £1m in grants and soft loans. Barring disasters, a new factory will be turning out Jensens by the middle of next year.

There seems to be much logic in Richard Noble’s idea of a small aircraft to carry business people from point to point, avoiding airport congestion. A market for 13,000 of his Farnborough F1 aircraft has been identified, and he has assembled a strong design team. Not so convincing is his plan to fund development through subscriptions from supporters and enthusiasts. This worked for ThrustSSC, which achieved much with severely limited funds. But Thrust was a reasonably attractive prospect for firms wishing to associate themselves with the record attempt through sponsorship.

Let’s face it: with competition for the same market looming from the likes of Nasa, this looks like a desperate way to fund a new commercial aircraft.