Paul Loomes’ eureka moment came three years ago when he was relaxing by a poolside in Turkey.
An automotive clay sculptor by profession who has been involved in car design all his working life, he was pondering the two wheeled electric Segway vehicle.
He says: “I was thinking about how difficult they are to ride and they are not road legal in the UK or in most of the rest of the world. I just thought if I made a vehicle like that that was road legal and simple to ride – like a Segway on steroids – it could very easily come to market and there could be a market for it.’’
Paul, 49, came back to the UK and teamed up with his brother David, who already had a business specialising in high end electronic security for buildings and set about designing the Raptor.
Now, three years on, their company Ecospin has £1.5m of orders already in the pipeline, has created six jobs and expects to create a further 10 next year.
Paul reports that demand for their three-wheeled electric vehicle has come from all over the world, with 350 units already destined for distributors in the US and Australia.
“We are in discussions with South Africa and Russia and we also looking like we are going to be going into Sweden as well. It’s an international product that the world wants,’’ says Paul.
Backed by government-funded support body the Manufacturing Advisory Service, MAS, the company, based at Narborough Wood Park, Enderby, is now putting the finishing touches to a strategic partnership with fabrication company ACE Forming, to set up a dedicated production line in Dudley.
This move will give the duo the potential to manufacture between 1,500 and 2,000 vehicles a year, which could translate into sales of £10m.
An elevated ride platform allows the rider to see over the heads of crowds and increases visibility at events, with different lithium battery options offering speeds of 25 mph and up to 50-mile range.
“It is primarily aimed at professional end users such as the police, shopping mall security and airport security. It’s a business-to-business product and is designed for patrolling big areas where you need to move people quickly in confined spaces,’’ says Paul.
“The vehicle will go inside buildings because it’s programmable and we can turn it down to three miles an hour or we can override it and tell it has to do 25 mph.’’
He adds: “Dave is an electronics genius and what he has done is revolutionary. He has rewritten the book on electric power trains and our vehicle benefits from an electronic differential that is a world beater.’’
Another potential market is for tourist guided tours of city centres and other attractions.
The battery can be removed for recharging and replaced with a fully charged battery.
It is aimed at a business-to-business market but Paul reports great interest from potential private buyers but being a three-wheeler rather than a car it does not qualify for the government’s £5,000 grant and it costs £6,500 before VAT.
MAS has been involved in the development of the Raptor from the outset after representatives saw the vehicle as a clay model in Paul's studio and the organisation worked with the brothers to re-shape their target market and push for early testing at the Mira research facility, near Hinckley.
After more than two years of development, additional manufacturing support from the Midlands Assembly Network – made up of 10 leading manufacturers – and £1.5m of personal investment from two other shareholders apart from Paul and David, the green vehicle was officially launched to the market last year.
And how did he feel when his dream became a reality and he watched the first Raptors roll off the production line?
“It was absolutely amazing, to have brought this product from an idea and a two dimensional sketch on a napkin next to a pool in Turkey and three years later to be physically seeing them being bolted together and being tested and the world taking to them. I’m shocked at how quickly the world has taken to them.
“We have only been selling them for 12 months and to have sold 300 in the first year and the order book for next year is looking like triple that. It’s quite astonishing.’’
“It’s really satisfying but I would say to any would-be entrepreneur out there, if you’ve got a great idea, it’s an act of war to bring a product to market in the UK because there’s very little help. We’ve had help from MAS, who have been great but there’s very little on offer to help you bring things to market.’’
Now Paul and David are thinking about several other vehicles they might develop.
“We are not a one trick pony, we are an R&D company,’’ says Paul. “We’ve passed the production on to Dudley to produce the product. We are looking into several other niche vehicles.’’
Is the thrill in the chase for him and will he lose interest in the Raptor now that it is in production or will he want to stay with his brainchild and see it develop?“That’s a good question. It’s such a revolutionary product that I can see me developing the product for some time to come. We are already looking at a Mark II body style for it and we are getting asked for trailers and roofs and solar power stations so I think this product will keep developing and we’ll keep developing it.’’