Where are they now? The Sinclair C5

Written by Paxton Quigley

Friday, 7 September 2018


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"Sir Clive, this is a shit idea"

Ah, a tragic case of surrounding yourself with lickspittles and yes men. Maybe a bit of market research might have been useful but I can just imagine his management team:

"Oh, yes, Sir Clive, it's a fantastic idea, one of your best. It will be a magnificent success," before sniggering outside the office while on a fag break.

Sir Clive Sinclair became one of the UK's best-known businessmen and was knighted because of the highly successful Sinclair Research range of home computers in the early 1980s. He hoped to repeat his success in the electric vehicle market.

But it didn't turn out that way.

The C5 was a small one-person battery electric velomobile, although widely described as an "electric car", Sinclair himself called it a "vehicle, not a car".

It was developed as an electrically powered tricycle with a chassis designed by Lotus Cars and the C5 was to be the first in a series of ambitious electric cars which did not get off the drawing board.

On 10 January 1985, the C5 was unveiled at a glitzy launch event but received a less than enthusiastic reception from the British media and its sales prospects were blighted by poor reviews and safety concerns. It was not available in shops until several months after its launch and the C5's limitations – a short range, a wind-assisted top speed of only 15 miles per hour, a battery that ran down quickly and a lack of driver's weather protection – made it impractical for all but the most deranged Sinclair fan.

Within three months of its launch, production had been slashed by 90%. Sinclair's wildly optimistic sales forecasts never arose and production ceased entirely by August 1985. Out of 14,000 C5s made, only 5,000 were sold before Sinclair Vehicles went into receivership.

The C5 became known as "one of the great marketing bombs of post war British industry" (Whatever happened to that?) and a "notorious ... example of failure".

Why didn't someone just say "I'm sorry Sir Clive, this is a shit idea, but don't worry because in 30 years' time someone will have invented eBay so we can sell them there"?

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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