By Dan Sanchez | Apr 23, 2020
Off-road and racing vehicles
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Racing and off-road vehicles
"I started as a bicycle mechanic, then became an automotive mechanic, and got to work my way into motorsports," says Powelson. "In 2014, I opened a race shop called LYFE Motorsport and while working on customer vehicles, I started a side project that ultimately led to the creation of SIERRA Cars."
Powelson's vision was to create a vehicle that would bring all of the excitement and feel of a race car, but without the million-dollar price tag. "I saw how people were buying UTVs and then pumping lots of money into them to get to the performance levels they expected," says Powelson. "I intend for our vehicles to be a market disruptor that can dominate on any surface, asphalt, and dirt, to become the Ferrari or McLaren of the enthusiast market. I'd like to serve the market with a better quality machine that is performance-focused. It's a race car rather than a UTV."
The company currently has two models and is finishing up a third. All of the vehicles are single-seater with a custom tube chassis and suspension. At $32,000 the 700R model features a Yamaha Raptor 700R motorcycle engine with a five-speed transmission and offers the company's first tier of performance. The RX3 is the next-level vehicle with greater performance on both dirt and asphalt that can be equipped with racing slicks or off-road tires. The Alpha is designed as the ultimate asphalt car with superior road course capabilities and is equipped with a Suzuki Hayabusa engine capable of 600 HP and equipped with a six-speed paddle-shifter.
The vehicles were originally built by hand, but Powelson is moving to more streamlined manufacturing capabilities. "I started my shop with two full-time engineers, three dedicated SIERRA technicians, an engineer/fabricator, and assembly guys," he says. "We built the first 17 cars in-house but will be moving manufacturing to Detroit to scale it appropriately. I'm building the foundations to become a mainstream manufacturer, but we're leading the R&D and development here in Utah. I would, for the near future, like to be making 150 cars per year and growing from there."
Utilizing local suppliers and parts, the company makes just about everything on the vehicles, except for the U.S.-made engines."The financial aspect of what we are doing, as well as the development, took a lot of time at first," said Powelson. "We had to sell one car to fund the parts for the next one. We were hand-to-mouth over the last three years, but we never sacrificed quality and performance. I ultimately had to find investors that would work with our level of commitment, not just trying to find the lowest price point. It's been a challenge but we have the growth now."
SIERRA has gained momentum by holding racing events and getting race drivers to try the vehicles. Powelson himself raced the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and plans to get the vehicles back into several racing series when they start up again. "The resources we've used from our involvement in motorsports have helped us launch the vehicles and we hope that after this pandemic is over, it will continue to grow and allow more enthusiasts to experience our vehicles."
Challenges: Powelson got the cars involved in several Pro Race series events, including the Americas Rallycross (ARX). "Unfortunately, that series lost funding and it's gone for this year," says Powelson. "We hope that the Nitro Circus group can pick up where ARX left off and bring rallycross back to mainstream racing. We would love to run with them in 2021. It would help us get the word out with the car again and continue to develop in a pro race series."
Opportunities: "With now having a production chassis, it helped our growth by allowing more hobbyists to build their own vehicle from the ground up, using the chassis as the foundation," says Powelson. "We have also been looking into creating an electric model which offers more opportunities in a variety of other racing venues and classes. We've also been approached by short course and rallycross promoters to possibly bring our cars to some of their racing venues, and hopefully we can make it happen next year."
Needs: "Testing and developing time," says Powelson. "That, however, comes from sales and moving more cars. The feedback we get allows us to develop faster. It also allows us to invest in more technology."