Don’t laugh! There is a great business opportunity in VMW (UK)

05-Feb-2019


One of our remaining manufacturers of motorcars, Morgan, has enjoyed a resurgence in 3-wheeled motoring, since it relaunched its ‘trike’, but Iain Robertson reports that an Utah-based enthusiast also wants a slice of the action.

There was a time, when vehicular affordability was a primary consideration. To be fair, it is still the case today, even though our new car scene is peppered with ‘usership’, rather than ‘ownership’ propositions, by which rental rates tend to obviate upwards escalating manufacturer list prices.

While I am old enough to remember the typical ‘motorcycle combination’, which was usually a Norton motorbike, with a sidecar attachment, which the father would control, his wife and child ensconced fishbowl-like and mildly terrified within the single-wheeled and fairly flimsily-bodied sidecar, it was understandable that three-wheeled cars (trikes) would also enter the mobility discussion. There were innumerable manufacturers all over Europe, ranging from AC, to Bond and BMW, with Heinkel, Messerschmitt and Reliant (‘Trotters Independent Trading’) producing several popular models during the 1950s and 1960s.

Morgan, one of the UK’s most quirky, yet in-demand hand-built sportscar manufacturers might never have existed without its early three-wheeled models. In fact, just six years ago, the Malvern-based company reintroduced its Three-Wheeler to huge international acclaim and, while it is the least expensive route to Morgan ownership, it is far removed from the austerity-enforced Morgans of old. However, the staunchly British firm has an admiring rival on the horizon.

Bespoke American three-wheeler (‘auto-cycle’) manufacturer, Vanderhall Motor Works (VMW…which sounds uncannily like an up-market German car make) wowed the crowds at the 2019 Brussels Motor Show held in January, while making its International debut in Europe. The boutique auto-cycle maker was represented at the event by an attention-grabbing three-vehicle display organised by Lenoir, which is now Vanderhall of Hasselt, the brand’s official Belgian distributor.

Two examples of the Vanderhall Venice were displayed, alongside a single-seater limited-edition Venice Speedster (one of just 250 being produced). Lenoir has stated that there was huge interest in the trikes, with initial European Venice sales set to be confirmed, once potential customers have experienced their test drives, at the hand-made wooden steering wheel of a Vanderhall demonstrator.

There was no denying the excited reactions to Vanderhall’s products, as enquiries are reported as having flooded-in throughout the Brussels’ event. Both three-wheelers are powered through their front wheels, as opposed to the single rear of the Morgan, by a proven 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, which is supplied by General Motors. Closely related to the Vauxhall unit, it sits within an advanced hand-formed aluminium chassis, which is clad with a composite plastic lightweight bodyshell that tips the scales at just 624kgs in total. 

As a result of possessing a phenomenal power-to-weight ratio, the Vanderhall Venice delivers 185bhp through a six-speed sequential-manual gearbox, with 0-60mph being despatched in a supercar-taunting less than 4.5s, before powering onwards to a 140mph posted maximum speed. By powering the front wheels, the trike’s handling is more conventional and more stable than a Morgan three-wheeler, which heralds more traditional, albeit modernised technology in its current trike.

With all Vanderhall roadster models homologated for European markets, later this year deliveries of a more luxurious Carmel model, plus an intriguing all-electric Edison 2 variant, will commence from Vanderhall’s official European dealer network, which is now being set-up across Continental Europe (no UK distributor has been announced as yet, which could present a great business opportunity). Although VMW is a specialist vehicle manufacturer, which is not required to comply with NCap crash test legislation, the company is incorporating as many safety items to its vehicles as possible. Having only commenced trading in 2010, with its first trikes being sold in 2015 in its domestic market, VMW’s growth has been outstanding. Demonstration models are being built currently to satisfy its European dealers’ demands. 

Founded in Provo, Utah, USA, by two-metres tall driving enthusiast Steve Hall, Vanderhall Motor Works released its first auto-cycle, the three-wheeler Laguna, to clamorous acclaim four years ago. The hand-crafted and very spacious vehicle was soon followed by the Venice in late 2016, with other auto-cycle models, including the electric Edison 2 and plush Carmel, being launched currently in North America.

Within a surprisingly short time-frame, Vanderhall has established a cult following across the States, with an impressive roll-call of enthusiastic customers, including inevitable film and TV stars. They are supported by a nationwide, 50-strong dealer network, each with dedicated servicing facilities employing factory-trained staff. Interestingly, Vanderhall’s philosophy is built around five simple premises: 1) to spend more time enjoying life, 2) to escape on meaningful adventures, 3) to smile more often, 4) to notice the world around you and 5) to feel alive! 

To be frank, I think that Morgan needs the competition, which can only lead to making its own products better than ever and perhaps even more competitively priced. However, I love the enterprise being shown by some real motoring enthusiasts. In many ways, VMW is as vibrantly different and, yet, as essential as a company like Tesla. The world needs disruptive players, if for no other reason than to break the shackles with which the major corporates keep us as close to their operations as they can. As a means to retaining a tactile link to motoring, cars like this can be good for the soul and the back pocket!

Selling for around $30,000 in its home market, it is anticipated that it will sell for around Euros33,000, which means that it is pitched directly into Morgan Three-wheeler territory.