GOODWOOD, England — A windshield and body panels are extra, and forget about doors or a roof. The fourth version of the skeletal Atom, launched by niche sports car maker Ariel this month at Britain's Goodwood Festival of Speed, might be new, but the recipe stays faithful to the original car that launched the company in 1998.
British makers of esoteric, scare-you-silly road cars rarely prosper, but Ariel is bucking the trend. For one, it has hit on an excellent way to service the U.S. — have the cars built locally under license. Last year, U.S. sales of the Atom and the off-road Nomad accounted for 40 percent of the company's 165 global sales.
The two-seater Atom 4 could push annual North American sales into triple figures, Director Tom Siebert, son of founder Simon Saunders, told Automotive News. For one, the Honda four-cylinder engine, built in Ohio, is now turbocharged rather than supercharged.
"Americans love turbo engines," Siebert said. "They love all the whooshes, pops and bangs of a turbo, and they like the torque and the acceleration."
The engine's 324 hp in a car weighing just 1,312 pounds gives a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 2.8 seconds, quicker than many supercars.
The U.S. car is built by TMI AutoTech Inc. in Halifax County, Va., near the border with North Carolina, and will be identical to the U.K. version. Along with the engine, most parts, including the steel frame, are built locally.
"We only supply them with bits and pieces, like wiring looms and certain body panels, things they can't find anyone to do nearby," Siebert said. Two dealers, one in Arizona, another in Florida, service the country. A third, in Toronto, supplies Canada.
The cost of the new Atom will match that of the old car's starting price of around $64,500, Siebert said. The U.S. manufacturing base means he's not sweating tariff threats.
Depending on where customers live — California, for example — the Atom is street legal. But the big fun is on the track. There are Atom-only race series on the East and West coasts, and it's a big hit for track days. Says Siebert: "It gives single-seat [race car] performance without the running costs." a