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How a new 'familiar' brand is seeking to reverse tyre supply concerns

News of the Avon factory closing caused dismay at the end of 2022. But now a fledgling brand using the same letters as the old company has exciting plans to fill the gap in the tyre market – and a few nods to the past too

Alex Summers, British Hillclimb Championship 2024 at Harewood

Engineering

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British Hillclimb Championship coordinator Tim Wilson admits he is not someone who likes to be overly dramatic. But he was genuinely fearful for the future of the discipline when the shock news emerged in October 2022 that Goodyear was planning to close Avon Tyres’ Melksham factory and the brand – synonymous with the world of hillclimbing – would disappear.

“I was very worried – I don’t think a lot of people realised the effect it could’ve had,” says Wilson, who adds the lack of suitable and competitive alternatives to the Avons was alarming. “I was worried for the health of the sport, not just the championship. The concern was it looked like there weren’t going to be any tyres for 2024.”

Wilson was far from alone in being worried. Given that Avon and sister brand Cooper were involved in so many strands of the sport – from historics to Formula Ford and rallycross – and the unique nature of many of their products, there was turmoil in some areas. Yet a plan was being hatched that would put Wilson’s concerns – and those of many others – to rest. In the wake of the Avon news, there had been huge interest from people and companies keen to take on the brand.

“We were frankly inundated with enquiries about trying to buy the business, trying to buy the assets of the business – we had the venture capitalists, we had other tyre firms, we had a wide range from wealthy individuals to large multinationals,” recalls Avon’s former general manager for motorsport James Weekley.

From these expressions of interest, talks intensified with rubber group SPC, which launched a new brand – Nova Motorsport – and acquired Avon’s assets and the licence to produce its old tyres. Finally, in February this year, an announcement could be made after what Weekley, now Nova’s commercial director, describes as a “complex process”.

“Goodyear is a very large multinational business with multiple departments with a lot of internal processes and due diligence and the inevitable by-product of that is that these things take some time,” he explains. “Speaking openly, [it took] longer than any of us would’ve hoped for.”

Historic racing is one of the priorities for new Nova brand

Historic racing is one of the priorities for new Nova brand

Photo by: Patrick Payany

When the new brand was finally unveiled, Avon’s history was immediately obvious, with Nova being Avon spelled backwards. But Weekley says there is far more to the name than that.

“Nova was quite a common phrase or word used among the Avon Motorsport team because the moulds are engraved with ‘Nova’ that reads ‘Avon’ onto the tyre,” he says. “The other thing is we made a mistake many years ago when we were doing British GT and we bought some very cheap flags that went on the trucks and, of course, if the wind is blowing the wrong way and the sun is shining through it, you have ‘Nova’.

“We used to joke about going back to the Nova tyre service operation, so Nova’s been a colloquial term within the Avon and Cooper business. We thought it was important to try to keep as much of the DNA and history and heritage of Avon Motorsport as possible so, just by rejigging the letters, it was a little bit of a tip of a cap to the business of old and hopefully makes the new brand feel slightly less alien.”

"Having such an experienced team, with so much history of working together, it doesn’t feel like a start-up business. It feels like a relocation of the old business" 
James Weekley

And there is nothing alien about the management team either, as Weekley is far from the only key Avon figure to have moved over to Nova. The overwhelming majority of senior staff have transferred across, many having over 20 years of Avon experience – including people from within the finance, sales, customer service and technical teams – and Weekley says this is “absolutely critical”.

“My personal view is the most valuable assets in any business are the people involved in it,” he states. “Making sure we re-employed a number of the ex-Avon and Cooper team was utterly critical to the success of Nova Motorsport and we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to retain so many of the team.

“In many ways, it feels like home from home in that respect. By having such an experienced team, with so much history of working together, it doesn’t feel like a start-up business. It feels like a relocation of the old business in a way. We’ve bypassed several years of the set-up time that a new start-up would need to get into this industry.”

All of these staff have bought into the vision of creating a premium brand that is solely focused on competition and specialist tyres, with none of the pressures of also considering rubber for road cars.

“It’s about being the best in the world at making those products for all of the weird, the wonderful, the niche applications, the extremely technically demanding and challenging applications, historic and classic motorsport, the width, length and breadth of two-, three-, four- and six-wheel on-road and off-road motorsport, that’s what we want to focus on,” explains Weekley.

Rallycross was a key focus for Cooper, and will be for Nova, too

Rallycross was a key focus for Cooper, and will be for Nova, too

Photo by: Jan Kaare Rafoss

“We’ve got this unique opportunity where we have all of these mature assets, this mature IP, this mature team of experts but we’re creating a new business. We’re able to take all the good elements, take all of that knowledge and experience but also, where we want to change and build things from the ground up, we can do that. Sustainability is a good example where it can be engrained from day one in what we do, which is much easier than trying to evolve an established business.”

One of the next key steps for the fledgling company was finding a factory in which to produce these tyres. And last month came news of Nova acquiring Portuguese tyre firm Camac and its factory – crucially one of a small number that has the ability to construct the crossply tyres that Avon was renowned for.

“It’s clearly a very, very significant milestone for Nova – one that’s been part of the plan for a very long time,” says Weekley. “Europe is a huge market for us in terms of sales, so being based in Europe means the time to market is less – freight/shipping is easier than it was in the UK and also a lower cost base. For those reasons, Camac was a very good choice for us.”

Weekley adds that September is the target for the first new Nova versions of Avon tyres to be constructed. And, while the majority of the old product lines will be reestablished, that’s not the work of a moment.

“In the Avon business, pre-pandemic we had around 2000 live products,” Weekley continues. “Ultimately, you can’t reindustrialise 2000 products on the first day in your new factory! It’s a prioritisation.”

Historic motorsport tyres, the ultrasoft sprint and hillclimb compounds and rubber for rallycross are the initial priorities, drawing upon areas in which Avon/Cooper were market leaders. This approach is evidenced by the new agreements Nova has already announced.

The 2.0L Porsche Cup and historic prototype categories of Peter Auto, a five-year title sponsorship of the British Hillclimb Championship and sole supplier to the European RallyX series are among the initial batch of confirmations. And such news was music to Wilson’s ears.

“It was a great relief,” he admits. “Avon had close links with hillclimbing and Nova were very keen to keep that as a prime area of their business. Avon have supported the championship ever since we [the British Automobile Racing Club] took the championship contract in 2012, so it’s nice to have that backing and reassurance we’ve got that financial support.”

Avon/Cooper had around
2000 products in recent times

Avon/Cooper had around 2000 products in recent times

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Wilson had already worked closely with Weekley and distributor BMTR to secure Avon stock for the 2024 season, which finally began at Harewood last weekend after rain delays, and is reassured about new Nova rubber being supplied in the future. But Nova is not just focused upon recreating old Avon/Cooper tyres – it is seeking to move forward as well.

“We will also be developing new products to make sure we’re new and fresh into the market and are capitalising on new market trends and have products available for the new vehicles, the EVs and a sustainable range of products,” says Weekley.

And, further down the line, there are also ambitions to move beyond solely manufacturing tyres.

“You’ll notice the business has been called Nova Motorsport and not Nova Tyres or Nova Tyres Motorsport,” Weekley adds. “The reason behind that is we’re not limiting ourselves to tyres. Now, at this point, there are no plans to evolve the business outside of tyres in the immediate term, but the longer-term vision for the business is to expand into other motorsport-related components. We may be talking wheels, suspension, dampers, those sorts of things.”

"Ultimately, you can’t reindustrialise 2000 products on the first day in your new factory! It’s a prioritisation"
James Weekley

Clearly, there are exciting plans in place but, for the time being, the focus remains on the bread and butter of tyres. And there is a strong emphasis upon creating quality products.

“One thing that’s absolutely essential as you go through our business plan – time and time again it appears – is around making sure the product quality and product performance is at least as good as it was from the Melksham facility and from the Avon business,” Weekley concludes. “That’s a really critical bit in our business and there’s a singular focus on that quality assurance and the product quality.”

Considering how much concern there was from Wilson, and many others, about a lack of quality alternatives in the aftermath of the Avon news at the end of 2022, it’s encouraging that the tyre market is seemingly starting to get back on the right track.

A new five-year sponsor deal has been struck with the British Hillclimb Championship

A new five-year sponsor deal has been struck with the British Hillclimb Championship

Photo by: Stephen Lister

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