We featured the Perana Z-One back in February when it was showcased at the Geneva International Motor Show. Now Port Elizabeth’s best-kept secret is just months away from production and its sales debut in world markets.
The car is the brainchild of Jimmy Price, who describes it as a “classic, partly retro, ultramodern, traditional two-seater”. He says having impressed at Geneva, the next step is to prepare the production line to make the car for the European Union (EU) market.
“We will start production in September and are hoping to produce about 40 cars a month,” he says. “But there is a lot of work to be done between now and September. We have to set up the production line, and ensure that we meet EU safety and performance regulations, which we have to comply with before we can export to those countries.”
The plan is to set up a dealership network across the EU.
While obviously of concern to Price, the global motor industry slump has not put him off long-term plans to export the Perana, especially since the car was so well received in Geneva.
“It was very difficult. We decided to do this car a year ago and the market hadn’t changed much at that stage. We were basing our projections on what we believed the markets would be. With all the changes happening, we were concerned if we would have a market.
“But we have been quite aggressive on pricing, and you can never be sure of anything. It’s like going onto a stage and singing a song; you don’t know how you will be received until you stand in the public eye. With all the motor companies struggling, we weren’t quite sure how the reception (at Geneva) would be, but it was beyond our expectations. We had a very good response from the press and public,” Price says.
The car was so well received that prospective buyers flew from London and wanted to buy it on the spot in Geneva. “On the first of March, we had people flying in from England with cheques — they wanted to buy the car at the show, which we don’t do. It was a number of people, not one or two, a big number.”
Price says the car’s launch created a media frenzy that Hi-Tech will now seek to capitalise on. “We had huge international press. I think at one stage we had over 2-million websites on Google featuring the car during the show. Even if you Google ‘Perana’ now, you will find about 900 000 websites featuring the car. All the biggest motoring magazines in America — Motor Trend, Car and Driver — all featured the Perana. The London Sunday Times had a two-page spread of the car, and an Italian magazine had a three-page spread. It was very positive.”
Price was pleasantly surprised to get compliments even from established industry players. “I think the most amazing thing is that the lot of the important low-volume companies such as Bentley, Aston Martin and Ferrari came up and were complimentary about what we have achieved.”
He also received a number of offers from people wanting to set up dealerships for the Perana, which Price has dubbed the “poor man’s Porsche or Ferrari”. It will retail at about £55 000, which at the time of writing was just under R750 000. “We seem to have picked on a niche market that is big enough for us,” he says.
Price is not new to the export world, having started in the early ’90s to flirt with the idea of manufacturing sports cars of a bygone era. The former engineer started designing, manufacturing and exporting replicas of ’60s classics such as the Shelby Cobra, Ford GT40, Shelby Daytona Coupe and the Lotus 7.
Through selling the replicas under the brand name Superformance, Price was able to establish a distribution network in the US, Canada, South America, the Far East and Europe.
However, the replicas did not quench his desire to design and make his own sports car brand. But he couldn’t do so at that time because international legislation dealing with the production of low-volume automobiles made it expensive to produce such cars for export markets. However, the EU changed its laws about a year ago, paving the way for the Perana’s international launch.
“I saw this as an opportunity to pursue my dream. I built the car with local guys — a small but competent, enthusiastic and professional engineering production team at St Albans.”
With the American car market in the midst of an unprecedented slump, sales of replica sports cars have been hard hit, and Price sees the arrival of the Perana as a timely opportunity to diversify. “It’s timely, considering what is happening in the auto industry. It’s something new and we believe we will be able to exploit the European markets. We can’t be tied to the American markets only.”
Notwithstanding the invaluable experience Price has picked up in dealing with export markets, he concedes that the task facing him is daunting. ” You are subject to market vagaries and constant change, just like what has taken place over the past year with the problems in the US. Markets come and go, and it’s a tough game, especially in the motor industry.”