TMI Auto Tech, exclusive North American manufacturer of the Ariel Atom vehicle, has been awarded an $838,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to develop a new sports car, the Spider. The project is anticipated to create 19 new jobs.
The closed-body Spider is different from the Ariel Atom and will be made of lightweight, high-strength woven carbon composites.
TMI partnered with the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority back in March to submit the grant to the Tobacco Commission.
The market for the Spider is a familiar one for the company: club racers, promotional vehicle purchasers and school car programs. TMI hopes to build 100 of the vehicles for international distribution over the next five years with the starting price of $135,000.
“We are pleased that the Tobacco Commission awarded TMI Auto Tech with this grant,” said Mark Swain, one of TMI’s owners and the vice president of marketing. “Receiving the award is a vote of confidence in our project in addition to the region’s capabilities.”
IDA Director Matt Leonard told board members at their Friday morning meeting that the 19 new advanced manufacturing jobs that TMI projects for work on the Spider will serve as a springboard for even more new jobs.
Local officials hope the project will give rise to local production of carbon composite materials which are in increasing demand as vehicles are mandated to become lighter and more energy-efficient.
Dr. Doug Corrigan, director of the IDA’s Southern Virginia Project Advancement Center, who worked closely with TMI to develop the grant, said his center includes a Modeling and Simulation Center and business incubator that can be helpful in fostering the rise of a carbon composite manufacturing sector. The Southern Virginia Project Advancement Center, formerly Riverstone, is adjacent to the National Center for Coatings Application and to Research and Education (C-CARE) described by IDA officials as a one-of-a-kind open source applied coatings laboratory.
“We believe there is no other single place in the country where a manufacturer can access these types of product development tools,” said Corrigan. He noted “carbon fiber materials are an advanced material used widely in the aerospace and high performance automotive industries.
“Halifax will become the first place in Virginia actively manufacturing these types of parts,” Corrigan said.
TMI expects to have the new sports racer designed and under production in less than a year.
In other business Friday morning, IDA members approved the Authority’s five year strategic plan which includes four goals. The primary of those goals is to have an attractive portfolio of sites, buildings and physical assets to offer prospects.