MADE IN SHEFFIELD: Exhaust firm faces the heat of change

Made in Sheffield featute at Cobra Exhausts. Pictured is MD Rachel Abbott. Picture: Chris Etchells
Made in Sheffield featute at Cobra Exhausts. Pictured is MD Rachel Abbott. Picture: Chris Etchells

Exhaust maker Cobra Sport is facing a big challenge from electric cars.

Long term, petrol and diesel cars are set to be replaced by battery and hydrogen-powered vehicles - and neither need an exhaust.

Made in Sheffield featute at Cobra Exhausts. Pictured is MD Rachel Abbott. Picture: Chris Etchells

Made in Sheffield featute at Cobra Exhausts. Pictured is MD Rachel Abbott. Picture: Chris Etchells

But it is in such difficulties that a company shows its class.

Cobra has just bought a 16-strong Cheshire firm specialising in exhausts for racing cars and classic vehicles, which increasingly all engined cars will become.

Boss Rachel Abbott can see a time when anything with an internal combustion engine is the preserve of enthusiasts. And Cobra Sport will be there to serve them.

She said: “There are three top companies doing what we do and they are not all going to survive. Our recent acquisition was a strategic move. Our customers aren’t into electric cars but I do think they will come quicker than people anticipate, how it affects our market, I’m not so sure.”

Made in Sheffield featute at Cobra Exhausts. Pictured is Tommy Grocock, production technician: fabrication and welding. Picture: Chris Etchells

Made in Sheffield featute at Cobra Exhausts. Pictured is Tommy Grocock, production technician: fabrication and welding. Picture: Chris Etchells

Rachel has also set up an ‘innovation team’ to explore how the firm’s expertise in developing exhausts, and bending and welding pipes into millimetre perfect angles, can be used in other industries.

The firm’s products replace factory-fitted exhausts. But despite being made in shiny stainless steel, they are not just about looks. Its modifications add a faster response and more power to engines - by sucking the gases out quicker - as well as a ‘sportier’ or ‘throatier’ (louder and deeper) noise. Established in 2004, it has enjoyed growth of more than 10 per cent for years and today employs 26. It sells about 100 exhausts a week, costing an average of £600 each. 

For Rachel, challenges are nothing new, she started doing the firm’s accounts while studying for a law degree at Sheffield Hallam University.

She says at first she struggled to be heard in the all-male environment.

Lee Hinchliffe, fabrication and welding apprentice. Picture: Chris Etchells

Lee Hinchliffe, fabrication and welding apprentice. Picture: Chris Etchells

But ability won out, and today she is joint managing director with brother Peter, although he prefers the operational side of things, she says.

“I didn’t know if I wanted it. But it was there and I had the skills to do it, so I did it.

“I’d like to think I am a role model. I’d say to girls, ‘don’t give up on what you want to achieve, don’t let anyone tell you what to do, especially men’.

“I think women are better at the people skills, I find it easier to manage the men. There are four other women in the company today but it was me on my own for a long time. It’s definitely been difficult, that’s why not many people do it.”

Stock management John Hinchliffe, Rachel Abbott and Stuart Walker, research and design engineer. Picture: Chris Etchells.

Stock management John Hinchliffe, Rachel Abbott and Stuart Walker, research and design engineer. Picture: Chris Etchells.

Cobra sells 3,500 parts and has 700 precious ‘jigs’, or templates, which show exactly how an exhaust should be assembled. 

It is also joint owner of a racing team.

Two Cobra Sport Hondas are set to compete in next year’s British Touring Car Championships.

A FAMILY BUSINESS DRIVEN BY A LOVE OF CARS

Phil Jarvis ran Ascar Exhaust Centre on Corporation Street, Sheffield, from 1974 until it was hit with a compulsory purchase order in 2004 due to road widening.

Aged 60, he decided to retire. Son Peter, who had worked there since school decided to go it alone and set up on Surbiton Street, Attercliffe, in 2004.

He asked sister Rachel if she’d help out. She switched her law degree to night school and by the time she graduated in 2007 had decided she didn’t want to be a lawyer any more.

She said: “I enjoyed working at Cobra and I could see its potential. I definitely made the right decision.”