Business news from the Fredericksburg region.
COLUMN: Culpeper creation ready to invade trike market
Culpeper entrepreneur and longtime motorsports enthusiast Sandy Hall had a vision for a unique three-wheeled vehicle.
It would sport aggressive European styling, have side-by-side seating and appeal to those who don’t feel comfortable astride a motorcycle.
All buyers would have to do is get in one and drive. They wouldn’t have to assemble it from a kit, which is how many trikes come.
Four years and several refinements later, Hall’s dream is about to come true. Tanom Motors’ assembly plant in Culpeper is readying the first 75 Invader high-performance reverse trikes for sale to distributors next year.
“I think there’s a tremendous market in the United States,” Hall, Tanom’s president and CEO, said during Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting for the 55,000-square-foot facility on Old Brandy Road. The event drew about 100 people, including Gov. Bob McDonnell and several state and local officials.
The Invader sports two 18-inch by 8-inch tires in front and one 20-inch by 18-inch tire in back. Power is provided by a 1340 cc Suzuki Hayabusa engine, and the trike can zoom from zero to 60 mph in just under 4 seconds. Other features include a proprietary reverse gear—something not available on a motorcycle.
Tanom Motors just filed its 16th patent for the Invader on Monday and had to seek a change in state law since it is introducing a new manufacturing process.
For the past two years, the company has been the largest single buyer of Suzuki Hayabusas, which it has been purchasing from Village Motorsports in Unionville. Tanom employees disassemble the motorcycles, and use the engines, transmissions and instrument clusters in the production of the Invader. They sell the rest as replacement parts.
The state never anticipated that scenario, and would have required Tanom to sell the Invader as a reconstructed vehicle, which most buyers would view as used, said CFO David Young. The company worked with state legislators and the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the law changed.
“The new law allows any motorcycle manufacturer that adopts this process to obtain and disassemble the purchased motorcycles as salvage dealers without titling the vehicles, which will save time and money,” said DMV spokeswoman Katy M. Lloyd. “The law also creates an alternative to the salvage process that, to our understanding, protects the value of the remaining parts, which are essentially still new.”
To give the Invader its sleek, sporty style, Hall turned to his friend Adam Canni of Canni Design in Flemming Island, Fla. Canni, who has done design work for GM and now specializes in motorcycles, looked at Lamborghinis, Learjets and big cats for inspiration.
“I wanted to do a melding of exotic sports cars and motorcycles,” said Canni, who is Tanom’s design director. “I wanted it to look like it was ready to leap or was moving already.”
Tanom showed off its prototype for the Invader in Las Vegas at the 2010 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, the premier automotive specialty products trade event.
People loved it, Hall said, but he found that accessibility was a concern. Canni tinkered with the design to make the Invader six inches wider and added six inches of leg room. The gas tank was also moved from underneath the seats to the rear of the vehicle.
This freed up space for cushy, contoured bucket seats, and allowed for more headroom in the TC-3 coupe and limited edition Red Rocker model. The Invader also comes in a roadster version, which has a windshield but no roof.
Like a sports car, the Invader has a steering wheel, gas, brake and clutch pedals, and a six-speed shifter with an electric reverse gear. It also includes dual beverage holders, grab handles, overhead map light and a locking glove box inside; and two exterior watertight storage compartments.
Hall said he could see people using the Invader for their daily commute, and envisioned a day when there might be a special race class for them sometime in the future.
“I think that would be a really fun class,” said Hall, who, along with his team, won their class in the rugged Baja 1000 last year.
Tanom Motors expects to complete federal emissions and brake tests for the Invader by the end of the month, and begin selling the Invader in 2014. The TR-3 roadsters and TC-3 coupes will go for just under $50,000.
Sammy Hagar, the former Van Halen front man and a friend of Hall’s, lent his input to the limited edition Red Rocker, which bears his nickname. It will sell for around $60,000, and feature “Rocker Red” paint, carbon-fiber accented hood and roof, red-stitched suede seats and a custom Rockford Fosgate audio system.
So far, about 60 dealers have expressed interest in carrying the Invader, but the company plans to start with five. They include Village Motorsports.
“There are a lot of people who are very interested,” said Lucretia Wolfcale, who owns Village Motorsports with her husband, Jacob Wolfcale.
Tanom already has 20 employees at its assembly plant, which includes a 12,000-square-foot assembly line capable of working on five vehicles at a time.
Young said that production will ramp up as employees are trained and procedures are refined. He said he expects the company will sell 500 Invaders in 2015 and will increase production based on demand. Once the operation is in full gear, it will have 300 employees.
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407