x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Canadian carmakers think fast, but to what end?

David Booth has his doubts as two companies in his homeland start building road rockets.

The de Macross GT1de Macross GT1.
The de Macross GT1de Macross GT1.

Oh, we assemble lots of four-door, let's-go-shopping Chevrolets and Dodge Caravans, and we even manufactured Bricklins for a bit. But big, powerful road rockets whose main purpose - other than to rid the foolish of their unwanted millions - is to boost the ego of the super-rich as they lord their superiority over the Corolla-driving proletariat? Not so much.

Yet, in the space of just one month has come news that there will be not just one, but two Canadian-built hypercars, the cheapest costing a heady CA$795,000 (Dh3m) with its truly hedonistic competitor falling into the "if you have to ask …" price range.

Remarkably unCanadian in comportment, these supercars will suck back petrol quicker than a fleet of Hummers, are as impractical as a bikini in a Kapuskasing snowstorm and, considering the rigours of Canadian law enforcement - at least in my home province of Ontario - are unlikely to ever venture further than second gear on the roads of their home country.

An Italian supercar, I get. Ditto for the Germans and their unlimited-speed autobahns. I even understand the idea of a US-built super sports car; despite equally draconian speed laws, their chrome it and flaunt it culture welcomes the look-at-me stylings common to all supercars. But why would a Canadian company want to produce such impractical beasts?

I have to apologise if you thought I might have the answer to that mystery. I actually have no idea why anyone would want to build supercars here in the Great White Frozen North (it is, quite literally, blizzarding as I write this).

I am a mere armchair psychiatrist, often left to ponder the indecipherable (like why Charlie Sheen has so pig-headedly thrown away the best gig in the world), though I do suspect that these low, slinky four-wheeled fashion statements are as much an ego stroke for their builders as they are for their owners. All that I know is that after years of churning out Chevy Impalas and Chrysler minivans, Canada can now boast the de Macross GT1 and the HTT Plethore. It is the latter that is the more famous of the two, HTT Technologies having recently been the recipient of a $1.5 million lifeline from the geniuses on CBC's Dragon's Den (a Canadian reality TV show that features investors looking for companies upon which to lavish their venture capital). The grant was based, it would seem, on the chief executive Sebastien Forest's claim that HTT can persuade 50 wealthy Middle Eastern, Chinese and American buyers to pony up $795,000 annually to buy a supercar built in Quebec.

HTT is relying on the Plethore's 750hp supercharged V8 and its incredible 2.8-second zero-to-100kph acceleration (though Nissan's mass-produced GT-R can perform the same feat for a mere $100,000) as key drawing points. It should be noted, however, that a Canadian newspaper reported that when Dragon's Den investor Robert Herjavec went for a test drive, the prototype developed transmission issues, not surprising since HTT has little experience in mass-producing complete cars.

From that standpoint, the even more recently developed de Macross GT1 might stand a better chance of success. The brainchild of the wealthy South Korean entrepreneur Jahong Hur (who drew its basic shape), the GT1 is the work of Multimatic, a parts maker based in the Toronto suburb of Markham that supplies suspension components to Formula One teams and builds the chassis for Aston Martin's phantasmagorical One-77. That expertise also helps explain how Multimatic was able to take the GT1 from drawing board to driveable prototype in just 14 months.

The de Macross is powered by a supercharged V8, this one a Roush Yates 5.4L Ford V8, rumoured to pump out 830hp. The GT1, like the Plethore, has a carbon-fibre chassis (similar in construction to the McLaren-produced SLR Mercedes-Benz), but the body panels, in a nod to time-honoured supercar tradition (not to mention lower repair costs), are hand-beaten aluminium.

Bristling with Multimatic's motorsports technology, the GT1 incorporates the world's first fully hydraulic anti-roll bar and another nifty tidbit that simultaneously lowers the ride height (for superior handling) while raising the suspension spring rate (and not just the easily adjusted shock damping). That means all that expensive, hand-beaten aluminium bodywork doesn't grind into the tarmac every time the GT1 encounters the endless frost heaves that pass for Canadian motorways.

Despite whatever technological prowess they boast, both cars face an uphill battle in a crowded field.

The market for supercars is tiny - less than a few thousand per year worldwide and populated with historic names like McLaren, Aston Martin (the de Macross will go head to head with the Multimatic-produced One-77 since they are expected to cost about the same, $1.5 million) and Bugatti.

Even a relative newcomer such as Pagani (builder of the much acclaimed Zonda) was founded by a former Lamborghini manager and sources its V12 engines from Mercedes-Benz's famed AMG tuning division.

Neither Canadian company can boast such pedigree. HTT's founders designed parts for race cars and Mr Hur, although well financed, has no experience in automobile construction or design. Theirs will be a long uphill battle for credibility in a market where credibility is the one quality that trumps all.