What's going on at Hethel?
After the axis invasion of british sports car manufacturer Lotus last year, Lotus has been gradually spitting out press releases about new cars and exciting times ahead. Leader of the coup, Ferrari marketing manager Dany Bahar, who was appointed CEO of Lotus in 2009 on the other hand brought in a few Germans and Italians to support the new direction in which Lotus wants to go. But what direction? We've read many stories about Lotus badged Protons, Ferrari bashing super cars and 'luxury' Elises. On top of that Lotus' Malaysian mother-company is pushing for greater quantities and a profit. Read on, as we try to fathom the direction Lotus wants to go in future.
For years there has been rumour at Lotus that a successor to the Esprit is on its way. With each announcement, though, it seems that it takes longer for the car to actually being presented to the world. In the mean time fans were palmed off with the introduction of the wonderful Evora as well as variations on the Elise-theme. But now, 6 years after Lotus stopped producing the Esprit, it seems a new Esprit is closer than ever. Why? Because Lotus is presenting its 'future' at the 2010 Paris Motorshow on 30 September according to their official website. What exactly this means has not been officially announced but 'insiders' tell us that a new Esprit will be introduced. This coincides with Bahar's announcement that he wants Lotus to move upmarket into Ferrari and Lamborghini territory. As 'upmarket' is the 'magic' word in the industry at the moment, the new Esprit will be more expensive relative to the older model; now selling in the £80,000-£110,000 price bracket. To make up for the price hike, rumours are that the car will get a Lexus V8 or even the savage Lexus V10 also seen in the Lexus LF-A. As Lexus is part of Toyota and Toyota already supplies all Lotus' engines these engines would be an obvious choice. Not forgetting the dynamic high-revving capabilities of these engines would very much suit the lightweight and nimble Lotus philosophy.
If Lotus sticks to its lightweight philosophy that is; Proton chairman Datuk Mohd Nadzmi Mohd Salleh said in June that Lotus has to sell between 6000 and 8000 cars and to do so has to make more 'accessible' performance cars, effectively writing of most of Lotus' lightweight philosphy and demanding more conventional cars. A seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, active dampers and adjustable aerodynamics and an improved ESP will be the most significant additions to make the cars better to live with and more 'salonfähig'.
Besides going upmarket Lotus wants to go downmarket as well by marketing a Lotus badged versions of Proton city cars. In March it was announced that the Proton Satria Neo would get the Lotus treatment by adding some go-faster stickers and re-engineering the suspension a bit. A second Lotus badged Proton car will be on its way as well in the shape of the new Proton EMAS concept. Perhaps a good decision commercially but rather a rather wonky one in terms of giving the Lotus brand a boost. I can't see what some cheap Lotus badged pacific-rimmers can do for a brand that wants to go upmarket and sell cars in the same segments as Porsche and even Ferrari. Just imagine parking your Proton Lotus next to a new Lotus Esprit V10, I'm sure the owner of the Esprit will be worrying about his image after this.
The swing in policy comes at the same time as the abeforementioned personnel changes undoubtably fuelled by CEO Dany Bahar. Back in December 2009 Ferrari director of design Donato Coco was one of the first decision-makers to join Lotus as design chief. Another important signing to implement the new strategy succesfully was Porsche's head of quality management Frank Tuch. In the meantime, though, he left to join Volkswagen AG and Lotus found another precise German in Mercedes AMG's Wolf Zimmermann. To put Lotus on the world-wide map Lotus hired another German, Andreas Schlegel, to lead its marketing department. While hiring Aston Martin's Darren Copland as brand manager. Lotus certainly indicates with this that it's serious about their promises.
Let's hope the promised variations on the Evora will also be released to the dealers soon. Notably the Evora S will be the biggest revelation in the Evora line. Lotus has released a few details of the car before the Paris Motorshow where it allegedly be presented. Apart from some suspension fiddling and upgrading the brakes and adding some (of the dreaded) electronic gizmos they have upped the engine's power by a massive 69 horsepower. Funnily enough all this comes from exactly the same engine size as the standard model; 3.5 litres.
Environmental issues have not been pushed to the back-seat at Lotus either as they continue to develop the Evora 414E Hybrid. Currently Lotus is looking at getting funding from the UK's Technology Strategy Board to produce two prototype 414E's. The car will feature an electric motor on each rear wheel, upping the (temporary) power output to 414 hp (hence the name) compared to a normal Evora's 276 hp. More impressive is the torque figure, which, due to the electric motors will be 590 lb-ft. The car is packed with batteries that will be charged by a 3 cylinder range extender engine (developed by Lotus) putting out a miserable 47 hp. Even worse is that the car will feature an artificial engine noise to account for the no-noise electric drivetrain. Choose from 4 sounds including sounds mimicking a V6 and V12 engine. Ugh! If that's the way Lotus will go, going away from purity in its car designs in every aspect, then I'd rather see them stop making cars altogether!