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Caterham plans full range of vehicles

Caterham has just shown its newest model, the AeroSeven Concept, but it's the model expansion that's the real news.

The tiny British sports car company that will help bring Alpine back from the dead is finally accelerating into the 21st century. Caterham cars is now planning a model range that will include SUVs and city runabouts alongside its traditional 1950s-inspired sports cars.

It is also well advanced  with its work on a joint venture with Renault that will revive the Alpine name in 2016 on a sports car to be shared between the companies, in a deal similar to the one that spawned the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86.

Caterham has just shown its newest model, the AeroSeven Concept, but it's the model expansion that's the real news. "In the very near future, the Caterham name will sit proudly on crossovers, city cars as well as a range of sports cars for everyone," says Tony Fernandes, the co-chairman of the Caterham Group.

"Caterham will show itself to be a progressive, open and entrepreneurially-powered car brand that will deliver and surprise in equal measure. It has been a British institution for the last 40 years, and automotive secret in many ways.

"We may be a small voice now, but we're on our way to engineering a decent set of lungs." Caterham is best known as the modern maker of the old-school Seven that was originally designed and developed by Colin Chapman, the brilliant engineer who was the driving force for the Lotus team in Formula One and road cars.

The AeroSeven Concept picks up the original thinking from Chapman's time and drives it forward in a car that still has a front-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive, even if it's the first Caterham with techno tweaks including traction and launch control.

Fernandes says the AeroSeven pulls technology from throughout the company, including the carbon fibre expertise of the - tail-ender - Caterham F1 outfit. There is no production plan for the AeroSeven yet, and the Australian boss of Caterham says he has only just heard about the SUV and city car projects.

"It's exciting news. It's just nice to see there are development funds," Chris van Wyk tells Carsguide. "It used to be a case of survival, but all of a sudden there are doors opening everywhere. I don't think people understand the breadth of the company yet. They are even making airline seats out of carbon fibre using Formula One technology."

Fernandes is the driving force behind the AirAsia airline, now claimed to be the most profitable in the world, but is also devoting plenty of effort to Caterham. "The joint venture with Renault to produce an all-new sports car for both the Alpine and Caterham brands demonstrates our clear intent on doing this right, doing it sensibly, but above all, doing it the Caterham way," Fernandes says.

"And, because we're a flat company, we're a quicker company. When we say we're going to do things internally, we do them. We don't procrastinate and lose momentum through legions of middle-management decision makers, we just do it."

This reporter is on Twitter: @paulwardgover