By on October 10, 2011

Lotus invited a considerable amount of schadenfreude when, about a year ago, it introduced not one new car, but an entire new lineup. And there have been plenty of opportunities to steal a mirthless laugh at Lotus’s expense, including when the firm backed away from Toyota engines, talked up the “authenticity” of a rolling chassis, ran into Chinese branding problems, and drew inadvertent comparisons to Reebok by hiring rapper/producer Swizz Beatz. And the hits keep coming. Lotus Senior Adviser, Former BMW executive Karl-Heinz Kalbfell tells Autocar

The brand is well known but the products are not. We are focusing on a new range of cars, but we must sell more cars now.

But how well can the brand be if the cars aren’t selling? Speaking as someone who spends  bit of time interacting with auto enthusiasts, I’d argue there are actually some serious questions out there about what a Lotus is, what with all the talk of hybrids, folding hardtops, performance sedans and generally increased weights. But Kalbfell was just scratching the surface of the host of problems to be found in the land of the Lotus eaters…

Part of the problem: how do you go from building spartan, relatively affordable Elises to Ferrari-fighting supercars? Lotus had actually planned to kill its newest and most expensive car, the Evora, in favor of a new “Elan” that was part of the initial new lineup. Those plans changed earlier this year, when Lotus announced that it was dropping the Elan (weirdly, the model still appears on the Lotus website) and giving the Evora convertible, targa and club racer versions. More importantly, Lotus needs more expensive versions of the Evora (which starts at $64k) to build consumers up to the $150,000-ish projected price of its forthcoming Esprit flagship… which is coming, in the form of an Evora GTE that should come close to matching the Esprit’s price. There’s only one problem, explains Kalbfell

We have some great cars in our range, like the Evora. Many car companies would love to have the Evora in their range. Now the point must be to get the car on the shopping list of buyers… We cannot just jump buyers up from the Elise to the Esprit

Oh no? But Lotus can become a globally-recognized supercar brand despite not having a proper US dealer body or even a US-specific webpage… right, Herr Kalbfell?

We also have to work on the dealer body, the potential customers and what will be the aftersales service

Yes… now that you mention it, that might be a good call. Luckily Lotus’s management team, once described by CEO Dany Bahar as the “Real Madrid” (think New York Yankees) of the car industry, speaks with one voice and can lead their floundering firm to the promised land… right?

The company is not good at coming to a joint decision. So I am also creating a management platform where problems, delays, whatever can be discussed.

Oh. Well that’s not great. But, other than the product range problems, the short-term sales problems, the Chinese branding problems, the US dealer/service/support problems, the overhype problems and the management problems, everything is fine, right? Lotus is on track to become the next Porsche or Ferrari, right? Is that a fair assessment, Herr Kalbfell? Bueller? Anybody?

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

35 Comments on “Lotus: “We Must Sell More Cars Now”...”


  • avatar
    stryker1

    Lotus: I will totally give you $50 for a brand new Evora. Right now.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Lotus is on track to become the next Porsche or Ferrari, right?”

    Would you believe SAAB?

  • avatar
    RGS920

    I know that Lotus is owned by the Malaysian car company Proton. However, I don’t see what either company has to offer each other. Maybe our European readers can correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t Proton vehicles looked down upon as selling some of the cheapest cars you can buy? I really have a hard time seeing how Lotus benefits from being owned by Proton. Does Lotus even want or allow their cars to be sold along side Proton’s cars? I can’t even see how Proton, from a marketing perspective, benefits from owning Lotus. The two customer bases are so far apart.

    Wouldn’t it make sense to sell Lotus to an established automotive brand which has the reputation in place to bridge the gap between customers? Just like Fiat and Ferrari or Volkswagon and Porsche. I just don’t see how, in the immediate future, a Proton-Lotus relationship has any synergy.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      I think the benefit to Lotus of Proton ownership is that their owner had gone bankrupt, they needed money, and Proton was willing to give them money.

    • 0 avatar
      faygo

      Proton benefits (even if only in their own minds) from owning Lotus in their home market. Porsche gains nothing from being owned by VW. I would bet that 95% of people have no idea VW owns Porsche.

      even more so Fiat owning Ferrari. I don’t recall the details behind why Enzo sold an interest to Fiat in 1969, but I suspect it was somehow money-related. with a bigger partner, Enzo would have been able to focus on racing – road cars were a necessary evil which existed to fund racing.

      Lanborghini doesn’t make any public connection to Audi (or VW) nor should they. a real premium brand has to stand on it’s own, not be a stairstep up from something else. why would you want people to think “that’s just a fancy VW” when they look at your Porsche ?

      • 0 avatar
        Vega

        Thing is though, Ferrari strongly benefited from Fiat ownership just like Porsche has benefited from cooperation with VW (and now being owned by them). Modern car technology development is so expensive (think Airbags, emission control, etc) that it takes an ultra-high volume producer to generate the cash for it.

    • 0 avatar
      another_pleb

      The problem with Proton is that they have been screwed by local protectionism in their own country. There are massive import tarifs on non-Malaysian cars so Proton and Perodua and a few CKD operations pretty much have the Malaysian market to themselves and are able to make a pretty decent profit out of some pretty sh!tty cars. Pretty much no-one elsewhere in the world wants to buy a Proton when there are plenty of other cars that do the competent but cheap thing so much better.

      As for how to solve Lotus’ many problems? I’m buggered if I know.

      • 0 avatar
        geggamoya

        Hah, not really relevant but the only experience i have with Proton is from the Network Q RAC Rally Championship-game from 1996.. :)

        Top Gear also “reviewed” the Perodua Kelisa a few years ago,

        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wI2MpcIiO6A&w=420&h=315

  • avatar
    carve

    There is no way in hell I’d buy a Lotus with a proprietary engine. There just wouldn’t be enough long-term support available, and it’s unlikely to be reliable. They should stick with Japanese engines…maybe even superbike engines for their smallest track toys.

    They could even try some German engines for their higher-end models, not that they really perform any better. It worked for the McLaren F1.

    • 0 avatar
      faygo

      I have not seen the figures in a while, but a decade or so ago, it was noted that Lotus had been directly involved in the development of more than half the engines for sale in Europe. the technical expertise of Lotus is without peer in the industry, regardless of the ultra low production rate-related foibles of the Elise/Exige.

      using engines built by someone else is an very efficient way to develop a vehicle – powertrain programs are extremely expensive, especially for a company (even with Proton’s money) as investment-constrained as Lotus has traditionally been.

    • 0 avatar
      slow kills

      If there is a documented case of a Lotus racking up decent mileage of any sort without becoming a money pit, I’d love to hear about it.

      • 0 avatar
        ...m...

        …i’m over eighty thousand miles daily-driving mine, at about one-quarter the maintenance costs of my prior volkswagen…say what one may about toyota drivetrains; i’ll counter that this is lotus is the most-affordable car i’ve owned since my geo prizm…

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve done many dozens of track days with my Exige over the course of the past five years and my expenses for non-consumable repairs are well under $2000 (closer to $1500). Most of that was for a new set of cams after four years of hard use. Consumables are relatively cheap too… I get a whole season of track and autocross use out of a set of tires and I went three years on the stock rotors. My biggest single expense is probably oil, which I change religiously.

        I compare that with my Mustang, which I couldn’t keep out of the shop when it was a track toy and which now eats up a set of Hoosiers in 3-4 autocrosses.

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      I can get every part for my Twin Cam. Don’t think there is much of an issue with the 907 either.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    Lotus makes very nice $25-35000 cars. Unfortunately, they charge $50-90000 for them. And stryker1, I will go $100 for one.

  • avatar
    The Doctor

    The people who whine about Lotus “betraying its roots” are the same people who moaned that the XF and XJ weren’t “proper Jaguars”. The fact that JLR made a profit of £1,120m in 2011 compared to a loss of £673m in 2008 shows that pandering to the pundits is a mistake.

    Regulations are so strict now that the only way to make the sort of lightweight cars that people associate with Lotus is as a low-volume cottage industry such as Ariel, Morgan or Caterham. If it’s a choice between Lotus ending up as another heroic British failure or reinventing itself into producing cars that someone could consider as a daily driver without having a lobotomy then I’ll choose the latter (not the lobotomy, that is).

    As for the SAAB comparison, a slight difference is that Lotus is actually an engineering firm and has more to offer than an Insignia in Scandinavian drag.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      People who go around bemoaning things not being the way they used to/are supposed to be are generally insufferable and tedious. The world’s not the same place it was 30 years ago, and it’ll be very different 30 years from now. If you like old Lotuses or whatever, go buy one or shut up.

      I could sit here and whine about how nobody buys manuals any more, or how music was so much better in the ’60s and how everything “sounded warmer.” But instead I drive an old slushbox Civic because its cheap, reliable and convenient, and right now I’m wirelessly streaming Arcade Fire from my iPhone to my home theater system because, well, time marches on.

  • avatar
    stuki

    I believe Lotus has a strong brand, it’s just not very well aligned with actually selling cars. At least to me, a Lotus is a car that is substantially lighter than the competition, lower to the ground, and with high door sills (not worrying about ingress/egress makes it possible to shave weight without affecting rigidity). Which is what you want if you value on road handling above all else.

    The problem is, the demographic who can afford a $50,000 go-fast car, want to look cool in their toy. Which is hard to do when you can barely get in and out of it. For the guys who are content with bragging about ‘Ring times, excessive weight can easily be worked around by making the car and tires wider, and pouring on power. But as a Lotus needs to be fast on English secondary roads, and incidentally in California canyons, that’s a no-go.

    So, Lotus ends up being the car every canyon racer wants, until he can afford to actually buy one, since he is by then too old and stiff and well dressed to comfortably fit in one. And besides, by then he has a family, and are too darned responsible to canyon race anyway.

  • avatar
    wallstreet

    I miss Toyota powered Elise.

  • avatar
    bud777

    If you have never driven a Lotus, it is impossible to understand why they inspire such emotion. I drove a Europa as a daily driver for 14 years and owned an Esprit for another 12. The light weight makes the car disappear. You think where you want to be and you are there. response is so instantaneous that the car becomes part of you.

    The new cars, in fact Y car Lotus or not, that weighs over 2000 pounds cannot do this. In fact, I never really enjoyed the 2000 lb Esprit after the 1400 pound Europa. Even the Elise was 2000 lb by the time it got to the states.

    I don’t see Lotus ever really achieving their goals. With the horrible build quality, why would I buy something that doesn’t deliver anything unique.

  • avatar
    jeff_vader

    I think the comparisons to Saab are very valid indeed. All though its difficult to compare and contrast because of the unique position Lotus hold (or at least held) in the market place, have a look at the registration figures for September 2011 in the UK.
    Remember September is one of the two busiest months of the year in the UK and that these figures are registrations, not sales. (Ferrari do not allow their figures to be published.)

    Aston Martin: 142
    Bentley: 135
    Infinti: 22 (have only been in the UK for a year.)
    Maserati: 41
    Porsche: 943 (and of course, they are the company that Lotus are ptiching for.)

    Lotus???

    5.

    I’m guessing that one of the other brand Lotus are shooting for Ferrari, probably wrote that many cars off testing the 458 Italia convertible last month.
    Most dealers in the UK believe that Bahar and Kalbfall are idiots, which wasn’t helped when Lotus terminated all of the dealers contracts awhile back and has asked them to re-apply for them but this time to dealer standards that put them on a par with Ferrari & Porsche. Which would be lovely if any of the dealers were actually making any money or selling any cars.
    The core value of Lotus isn’t too far away from Morgan; small cheap amazing handling sports cars with a touch of English eccentricity. For them to think that what the customer wants is a British Ferrari is insane. The Evora has been a disaster because Lotus management have played the usual game of, “Here’s the new Evora… no wait heres a more powerful one…. no wait here’s the stripped down racing one…. no wait heres a special edition,”
    Customers could put up with that when you are talking about a £30000 Exige/Elise, not when you are talking about a £60000 998 competitior. Of course Porsche do it too but not every six months & Ferrari do standard, convertible and Challenge and errr…. that’s it.
    Customers don’t want a British Ferrari, ask Noble or Ascari or Caparo.

    Proton will only put up with this for so long before the vultures start yet again over Hethal. All you need to know about Bahar and Kalbfalls management can be summed up in the Freddie Mercury Auction car. Rather than donate a trophy, an Andretti helmet or a day at the factory to Mr Mercurys worthwhile AIDS charity, they painted up a Lotus in the colours of one of his stage outfits and offered it up. Because everyone knows a dead rock star who didn’t even know how to drive and went everywhere by limo is a worthwhile brand ambassador for a brand that specialises in manufacturing light weight racing road cars.

    Like Muller, the current Lotus management are so far out of their depth they can’t even see the bottom of the pool. Pretty soon the bean counters in Malaysia are going to tire of sponsoring two F1 teams by mistake & linking the company to a rock star who hand no interest in cars & was more than a little interested in recreational chemicals. Then, the ‘for sale’ signs will re-appear yet again in Norfolk and no doubt, the management will skip away to another job in an industry which at this level constantly rewards failure.
    “It wasn’t our fault, it was the market place/the workers/the customers/the media/the government/the dealers/the owners! (pick one to choice.)
    They didn’t understand what we were trying to do. Not our fault, honest.”
    & just like Muller I’m sure they will walk away with nicely lined pockets, while yet another slice of motor industry history bites the dust

    Colin must be spinning in his grave.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    VW ought to buy Lotus and give it to Seat. Lotus could put some oomph into Seat, bring in some much needed sales and build some MG B style sportcars out of Norfolk. And some hardcore Elise’s too.

    Lotus won’t cut it as a supercar maker, so it needs to be hooked into a Volume car maker to survive.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Sydney

    I had to chuckle at ‘faygo’ who seems offended that Ferrari is owned by the ordinary Fiat and Lotus is owned by the sub standard Proton then puts up Lamborghini as an example of a brand that stands alone, tall and proud. Does he not know that Lamborghini was (is) an agricultural tractor company? Another classic spawned from lowly tractors is the Aston Martin whose initials DB (as in DB9 etc) comes from David Brown, British tractor manufacturer. Maybe we need a supercar from John Deere.

    • 0 avatar
      The Doctor

      Keeping on the tractor theme, David Brown formed Ferguson-Brown (which eventually became Massey Ferguson) with Harry Ferguson who was responsible for the AWD systems in ’60s F1 cars as well as being one of the “F”s in the Jensen FF.

      Also, don’t forget that Porsche once produced a nice line of tractors as well…

    • 0 avatar
      faygo

      you misread me by a long way.

      if one agrees that for the average (note I said average, not the true enthusiast, whatever that is) buyer, a super-premium vehicle is purely a vanity purchase, intended to advertise one’s wealth to the world – not for the driving enjoyment – you don’t want to draw any connection to your luxury purchase with a non-premium brand.

      I’m well aware of the history of the industry and Lamborghini and Porsche’s agricultural connections. however, the average vanity-motivated buyer is not. nor do they know that VW owns Laborghini. or that an R8 is a Gallardo and the other way around. and that’s the way both the seller and the buyer want it to be.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Love lotus cars.

    Wish I could afford one.

    sigh.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Lotus cars, are cool, but expensive and bare bones. I know they keep them bare bones for weight reduction, but I am not sure how many people want a car that is bare bones like this for 50k. Granted, they don’t need huge amounts of cars to do this because they aren’t trying to compete on volume.

    I think the big problem with Lotus is that their cars are getting renamed too much, like GM does with its small car failures. I know of the Esprit and the Elise. Maybe at one point the made an Exige. But, I honestly don’t see them enough to know what is going with Lotus. I don’t read auto mags anymore. I know of Lotus, but I also know that I wouldn’t want anything in their current lineup. I like some creature comforts for 50k.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Lotus cars have always been different. Lotus has always been in finacial troubles. They have always been expensive. They aren’t very reliable or ergonomic but none of that matters. Drive one and you will be convinced it’s worth having one even if for only part time drives.

  • avatar
    robc123

    they are just all over the place, it must be hell to work for a CEO like that.

    As for their own engines- Lambo doesn’t make or cast their own engine blocks, they come from audi. What about spyker, Pagani Zonda, gumpert, etc? they all have other companies engines in them.

    If a toyota gets the job done and gets tweaked by lotus then who cares, I think it is a selling point that they have jap engines in them. (same thing with high end watches almost none of the big brands do their own movements 100%, in fact most are just cheap ETA 2824′s with a maybe custom rotor on them but still charge up to a couple grand.)

    I think this is just really bad leadership, number 1 rule is talk to the customer first see if there is a demand- costs almost nothing to do a couple of mock ups, then do focus groups, then take pre-payments…. If the CEO has to come out and say the problem is we have to sell cars, then why have a leader at all? what do car companies do at the end of the day?

    My gut is telling me the CEO is doing this to justify a big paycheck and to blow a huge wad of money. I would place money on it that lotus is either killed entirely or sold off with none of these cars going into production.
    Maybe sold to the Chinese like hummer…. or maybe not if they have brand issues in china.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    Here goes.

    Got a new elise this year, one of the few made, the rerason, Prob costs the same as a vette, but that is not the point.

    If we are talking Lotus DNA how about a car that fits and drives like a well worn glove. The only thing similar(vehicle an extension of the mind and body) is a good bike. It is one of the few trackable cars without having to spend exhorbitant sums on. And even then there are a few must mods to regularily track.
    The toyota engine is good in the sense that it is inexpensive and reliable. Realisticaly an elise would be a far better car with honda power, or even a really good bike engine, like the BMW 1600.
    the there is build quality, it is not great, better than an 80′s chevy in fit and finish but the mechanicals are solid.

    If Lotus wants to get somewhere they should reckognise that the core appeal is real car people like them, they can build a replacement elise, to give the brand cred and then go for whatever poeur crap people like off the back of that. BTW everyone who sees the elise going down the road smiles, and I live in a rural area where people do not know what it is, but they do know it is not some fancy prcerarri which they would hate for all it represents.

    Everyone wants a ride in the lotus, unlike the the M3 or ferrari.
    There is soi much going for lotus in the elise, they just need build, and motor, from this core base then the brand can grow.,

    Is it not ironic that as the world goes lightweight, Loytus which owns that territory for sportscars is abandoning it. Does the world need, and is there enough of a market for another ferrari, porche, aston, audi lambo heavyweight overpowered poseur mobile.

    What the world needs is a better lotus, something the company seems intent on not producing. it seems to be run by marketeers, something which did not even work for GM.

  • avatar
    robc123

    I agree with boxerman, a honda vtec engine would be killer.

    I also think that aluminum body panels would be the way to go in an elise. No one wants an expensive fiberglass car with 1 air bag.

    As is a boxster/cayman blows away an elise/evora as a everyday driver and in price. There are very few people that track cars and from that demographic potential lotus owners.

    On the price side, a base boxster is $48-61k and a cayman is $51-66k the elise/evora is $53-80k, with the evora is hitting base 911 pricing.

    I would like to see a elan (60′s) that is updated, like a more powerful/better handling (coilovers) mx-5. If they could make it look better than a boxster or mx-5, and keep the price in between or even at a boxster level, I think they would have a niche.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    “We have some great cars in our range, like the Evora. Many car companies would love to have the Evora in their range. Now the point must be to get the car on the shopping list of buyers… We cannot just jump buyers up from the Elise to the Esprit.”

    If Karl-Heinz Kalbfell has a plan for taking me from being someone who could consider an Elise to someone who can drop $150K on a car without Ben Bernanke’s ‘help,’ I’m all ears.

  • avatar
    evan

    As others have noted, the big problem with lotus is CEO Bahar. I have yet to read an interview with him in which he does not contradict himself with every response or display titanic ignorance about Lotus or his market.

    Companies rot from the top down. I hope the board of directors wakes up and fires this dolt before he does any more damage.

  • avatar
    eldard

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, most of the rich don’t care for sports cars. Otherwise Ferrari and Lambo would be big independent companies, no?


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India