One guarantee at nearly every auto show is there will be some startup car company there with a model of what it promises is going to be the next great supercar. No one has ever heard of the company, much less the car, but engineering brilliance and helpful investments from potential investors just like you are all that it’s going to take to turn a wild dream into a production reality. A few years go by, and inevitably, nothing ever comes of the world’s next great supercar. At a certain point though, it’s time for them to stop trying to build supercars altogether.
On a certain level, it’s understandable, especially for Americans who grew up being taught that the world is their oyster and that they can do anything they want as long as they try hard enough. They want to take their passion for cars and build it into a business. They want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and write their name in automotive history next to Horacio Pagani and Christian von Koenigsegg. If those two can be successful at it, why can’t somebody else?
At the New York Auto Show this year, the latest in long line of totally realistic startups was Lyons. Well, it would have been, but prior to the start of the show, the company pulled the LM2 Streamliner out. It had something to do with the car not yet being up to the owner’s standards, but the real reason could be anything from a transportation issue to the car only existing in Photoshop. It’s possible that the LM2 Streamliner could resurface at another auto show in the future, but for now, it looks like the world will never get a taste of the 1,700 horsepower hypercar or its wireless electronics. If Kevin Lyons can actually bring the LM2 Streamliner to production, that would be pretty cool, but until then, he joins the unnecessarily long list of entrepreneurs who started a company, tried to build a supercar, and fell far short.
There was a time, not even very long ago, when a company promising that it was going to build a new supercar sounded a lot more plausible. In 2000, Saleen actually produced the S7, a 550 horsepower supercar that could actually give America a shot at competing against Europeans. It wasn’t just a supercar. It was the American supercar, and it was built by what was essentially a tuning company, not one of the Big Three. If Steve Saleen could go from tuning Mustangs to building his own supercar, why couldn’t other people?
The biggest problem with that idea is that over the last 15 years, horsepower has both gotten cheaper and more plentiful. In 2000, the Mustang GT made 260 horsepower, and the Chevrolet Impala offered an engine that made 200 horsepower. Meanwhile, the Ferrari 360 Modena made a very respectable 400 horsepower. Today, the Mustang GT makes 435 horsepower, and the Chevrolet Impala offers an engine that comes with 305 horsepower. That means that new family sedans have more power than a 15-year-old muscle car, and muscle cars have more power than a 15-year-old Ferrari. Meanwhile, the Ferrari 488 GTB, the eventual successor the 360 Modena, make 661 horsepower.
Perhaps even crazier, Dodge sells a version of both the Charger and Challenger that make 707 horsepower, 46 more than the Ferrari 488 GTB. In a world where Dodge sells a 707 horsepower sedan with an MSRP that starts under $60,000, even the 550 horsepower in the original S7 looks pretty pedestrian. Even though the S7 eventually ended up getting a twin-turbo version that made 750 horsepower, Bugatti had to go and introduce the 1,001 horsepower Bugatti Veyron that forever made regular cars’ horsepower numbers look small and insignificant.
In an attempt to get noticed, these startup companies began promising bigger and bigger horsepower numbers. 1,200 horsepower? 1,500 horsepower? 1,700 horsepower? 2,000 horsepower? 3,000 horsepower? It’s all been promised before, and it’s gotten to the point where no one cares. Most of these “next great supercars” all look pretty much the same. They’re entirely forgettable, and tire technology is lagging so far behind engine technology that even with all-wheel drive, there’s no way to put that kind of power down to the road. Even if such a car were ever produced and sold by a mainstream manufacturer, having 3,000 horsepower in a car is like having 3,000 girlfriends. It might be good for bragging about, but it’s also almost guaranteed to end very poorly and may even land you in jail.
Let’s be completely honest here. The Trion Nemesis is never going to happen. The Technicar Lavinia SE is never going to happen. The Godsil Manhattan is never going to happen. The Izaro GTE is never going to happen. The Exotic Rides W70 is never going to happen. The Lykan Hypersport is never going to happen. The Falcon F7 is never going to happen. Most of all, the 5,000 horsepower Devel Sixteen is absolutely never going to happen. Sure, some of these companies have built running versions and might even sell a car or two, but you can’t call selling one or two units a company. That’s just an incredibly expensive, official-sounding hobby.
So should these entrepreneurs completely give up on their dreams of starting their own car companies? Yes and no. No, they shouldn’t give up on their dreams, but yes, they should absolutely give up on starting a supercar company. There’s nothing wrong with trying to start a company, but nobody cares about horsepower anymore. There’s also a big difference between starting a company with the intent of actually delivering a product and starting a company with the intent of conning people out of their money.
Some of the cars being billed as the next great 20,000 horsepower, 11-wheeled, electro-hydrogen-powered supercars come from people who are simply foolish enough to believe that they can actually develop and sell such a ridiculous vehicle. Most of them, however, reek of scams. Whether they just want to take as many deposits as they can before disappearing into the night or whether they intend to sell cheap kit cars like they’re actually hand-crafted supercars, there’s no way that most of these companies actually believe that they can turn into a profitable business, much less stay profitable once warranty claims start rolling in.
For the companies that really do exist and aren’t elaborate shell games invented to take people’s money, instead of trying to build a 3,000 horsepower plug-in hybrid, six-passenger supercar that looks like it was traced from a Saleen S7 and then given different headlights, why not build something that looks truly desirable and that actually feels unique? Instead of spending all the time and money trying to develop a car that won’t fall apart or explode at 368 miles per hour, why not focus instead on an amazing driving experience? Give buyers something that looks distinctive and feels special every time they sit down in the driver’s seat. Strive to compete with Morgan, not Lamborghini. Lamborghini has Volkswagen’s development dollars, and startups rarely have any dollars. Trying to build supercars in today’s automotive climate is just foolish.
There’s still plenty of room for someone to start a great sports car company though. Instead of astronomical horsepower figures, aim for something more usable, like 300 horsepower. In a lightweight car that’s tuned to be fun to drive, that’s plenty of power. With a sexy look and a beautiful interior to match, that’s a recipe for a car that’s going to get people talking at auto shows. That’s the kind of car that’s going to get the automotive press cheering for its success, not laughing it off as a joke. And hey, if that car does well, you’ll have the cashflow to invest in a more ambitious project. America was built on the notion that you could start on the bottom rung and work your way up — there’s rarely an elevator to the top.
The list of successful sports car startups, after all, is much longer than the list of successful supercar startups. Companies like Noble, Spyker, and Wiesmann might not have ever competed with Porsche for sales volume, but they were all able to get off the ground, build cars that actually existed, and begin selling them to real buyers. Sadly, the the 2009 financial crisis took out Wiesmann, but Noble and Spyker are still here. When KTM wanted to build something other than motorcycles, it built an open top sports car that made 237 horsepower, not 2,370. Even companies that have been around for ages, like Lotus and Morgan, have found success despite not getting caught up in this ridiculous horsepower war.
Life offers no guarantees of success, but if one of these startups would build a good old-fashioned sports car, surely there would be more potential there than in hypercars that cost $2 million and could only possibly appeal to a few billionaires in the Middle East who insist on owning every car ever produced. Cars that max out at 155 miles per hour are far more affordable to develop than cars meant to pass a flat-out Bugatti Veyron like it’s standing still. Plus, they’re way more fun on public roads. Build a car like that, startups, and maybe people will believe you when you promise us that it’s definitely for sure going to exist in the near-but-somewhat-distant future. If you keep trying to build ridiculous supercars though, you’re just going to keep getting laughed at.