Supacat builds 30 year global success story from Devon base
17 February 2012
In 1981, two entrepreneurial engineers based in Devon had the idea of making specialist off road vehicles, mainly for military applications. The choice of business location originally owed more to their personal roots than to business planning but the county has proved the ideal location to turn that original idea into a highly successful company. Today Supacat is world renowned as an innovative developer of high-mobility vehicles, serving both civil and military markets.
Thirty years on from its foundation, it is now also driving into new areas as a key element in the next phase of its development.
From modest beginnings, Supacat grew rapidly during its first decade of operation and moved to its current base at Dunkeswell Airfield, Honiton in 1991. The location provides easy access to the procurement arm of the Ministry of Defence - at Abbey Wood on the outskirts of Bristol - which it numbers among its major customers. It also offers ample space for vehicle testing and for the steady expansion of design and production facilities which, with the help of a supportive planning regime, now total some 250,000 sq ft, including 30,000 sq ft of covered workspace.
The company employs over 100 people, has around 1,000 of its vehicles in service and is supplying both vehicles and equipment not just to UK clients but to those elsewhere in Europe, the USA and Australia. The business is built on high quality engineering design skills and the development expertise needed not just to create new vehicles but also to respond to rapidly evolving requirements for equipment operating in challenging locations such as Afghanistan.
Today the company is embarking on the next generation of vehicles for its traditional markets and also moving into new sectors which allow it to draw both on its expertise and track record and the attributes of the county in which it is located.
Explains managing director, Nicholas Ames (pictured): “We are developing new outlets for our engineering design and development skills in areas such as mineral exploration, marine and renewables. We’ve recently developed a new lifeboat launch and recovery system for RNLI and are working with a number of other customers to expand our product range in this sector.
"In the renewable energy field we are members of a Fred Olsen led consortium, which also includes the University of Exeter, developing a Technology Strategy Board funded, state of the art wave energy device. We are, of course, ideally located to take advantage of burgeoning opportunities in the marine and renewable energy markets in which Devon has particular strengths. We also benefit from a stable workforce, good supply chain and, of course, the quality of life offered by the county.”