A year ago, I penned a passionate defense of the new direction that was being taken by Lotus. In the piece, I chastised enthusiasts for their armchair criticism of Lotus management and their resistance to bringing out new vehicle to replace the nearly two decade old Elise (which would hit that mark by the time a replacement rolled around in 2015) and their lack of faith in the stewardship of CEO Dany Bahar, the man who helped Luca di Montezemolo turn Ferrari around. Now it looks like I’ll have to retract those words and admit I was wrong.
Lotus and Mansory, an infamous “styling house” based in Germany are teaming up to produce customized vehicles in a bid to appeal to those with excess wealth and a dearth of taste. Mansory is far from your average aftermarket company. They’ve created some of the most gaudy, offensively brash vehicles crawling the roads of Moscow and Abu Dhabi – and I say this having defended even the Bentley EXP 9F.
For anyone unfamiliar with Mansory’s wares, here’s an example of one of their “customized” Mercedes SLS AMG models.
For the record, I still take issue with the legions of fanboys who decry Lotus abandoning its “brand values”, which are really just made up narratives created by suits to sell cars (and more importantly, merchandise). I still maintain that the new model lineup is important and good for the company, and that the diminishing sales of the Elise and Exige threaten the company with irrelevance of something new isn’t released soon. But the concepts, despite all the criticism weren’t bad cars. They may be derivative, or a bit lacking in panache or worse, used to project your own personal insecurities onto the bespoke-suited Dany Bahar, but they were not offensively tasteless like the Mansory cars are.
This collaboration is a naked ploy to sell cars in emerging markets where flash and wealth are treasured above discretion, taste or ability. While Bentley has diluted their brand by churning out a hundred million Continental GTs, there is still a real mystique with Lotus cars that gives them substantial brand equity (shoot me for using that term). An Evora is a Ferrari for most of the uneducated masses, and an Elise or Exige looks like something extraterrestrial, especially when painted in a signature bright hue like orange.
The 2015 (or whatever year it may be) Esprit would have been enough to stop traffic on its own. Even if it was a pastiche design like the newest McLaren, it looked exotic without being over the top – maybe that was the problem. I still think that the allure of Lotus and the low-slung profile would have been enough to draw the oligarchs and shiekhs to the showroom, but evidently someone in Hethel or Kuala Lumpur didn’t. Lotus cars have always been just the right side of outrageous – a lime green Exige S, the kitschy Esprit Turbos of the 80′s, festooned with gold decals and mesh wheels, the Europa’s bizarre, insect-like styling. But it was always tempered by the Elan, the Elite, the tasteful British Racing Green and yellow badges
That legacy is now gone with the Mansory lineup and cheap tie-ins with third rate rappers (who was once dubbed by a Wu-Tang member as “The Black Adrian Brody”). The press release proudly states how one Mansory collaboration, the Evora GTE “…has already prompted around 250 orders and leads between China and Europe and we expect it to have a very successful future as the top of the range Evora.” I’m not naive enough to think that Lotus should build the Elise in perpetuity and abandon new markets during a volatile economic era. I think change is a good thing. But this is too much change, too fast, in the wrong direction. It makes me fear that this is all just a diversion to distract from the fact that the real meat, the new product, is not going to come out on schedule – or at all.