OCOYOACAC, Mexico — When Mexico's first two-seat production sports car rolls out of the plant in a few weeks, at stake will be not just automotive bragging rights but also national pride.
There have been plenty of naysayers. Automotive commentators in England were so derisive of the idea of a Mexican sports car earlier this year that they set off a diplomatic fracas. Mexico demanded an apology, and got it.
Sometime in September, the first Mastretta MXT, a Mexican-designed high performance sports car, will roll out of a factory here, 30 miles west of Mexico City. Owners are promised an exhilarating experience when they hammer the accelerator.
The hand-built, rear-engine MXT accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. Its designers say it's built for people who itch to get off the street and onto the track.
"We are targeting a niche," said Jean-Paul Capin, the chief financial officer of Mastretta Cars, a division of Tecnoidea SAPI de CV, an engineering and design house based in Mexico City. The typical buyer will be a speed lover who has access to local raceways — and who has about $58,000 to spare.
"On the track, it's a giant killer," Capin said. "You can race against really high-end sports cars, Porsches and Corvettes, because of the power-to-weight ratio and the way the cars are set up. On the track, they are highly competitive against those cars at a fraction of the price."
But whether a small company can realize its dreams of becoming what one auto analyst called the "Mexican Lotus" is a different matter.
Few doubt Mexico's broader automotive capabilities. Mexico is the world's 10 biggest auto manufacturer, after China, Japan, the United States, Germany, South Korea, Brazil, India, France and Spain, in that order. Factories in Mexico pump out more than 2 million units a year.
The auto industry is Mexico's largest manufacturing sector and it employs some 560,000 people.
Volkswagen, Nissan, Ford, General Motors and many other global automakers have major operations in Mexico, and hundreds of companies supply them with components, from engine parts to bearings and moldings.
The cluster of associated industries is partly why Carlos and Daniel Mastretta thought they could make a go of it producing hand-built sports cars. Some 65 percent of the 1,900 components that go into the Mastretta MXT are available regionally, and the high labor costs of a hand-built car give them an edge in Mexico, where wages are low.
The Mastrettas have spent two decades designing public transportation vehicles for the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, and prototype racecars. The government holds a small stake in the company, hoping to boost such innovation.
Business experts give the Mastrettas only a fighting chance to survive on a small scale, even though they set fairly modest production goals: 25 to 30 cars this year, 120 to 150 units in 2012, and 250 or so the year after that.
"It's possible they can thrive as a niche market," said Tapen Sinha, a supply chain expert and professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. "But if you ask me if they'll produce 5,000 cars, I don't think so."
Still, Sinha said outsiders shouldn't scoff at Mexico's improving industrial and technological abilities even if most plants were enmeshed in global supply chains.