The Truth About Cars » Lotus Elise The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 13:00:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Lotus Elise How Much Does Homologation Really Cost? Thu, 12 Dec 2013 14:00:09 +0000 homologation

Being teased with a desirable but unavailable variant of a car sold on our shores is as inevitable as death and taxes. Every year, there is some new supercar station wagon, ultra-efficient diesel or hot hatch/rally special that seems just within our grasp. Inevitably we learn that it won’t be making its way to America for a variety of reasons. Ultimately, it boils down to one simple factor: it would cost too much to bring it over.

The cost-benefit analysis is a cold reality of the automotive world, which is in the business of making money from selling cars, rather than a charity that provides enthusiasts with playthings to lust after, but not buy. Hard to believe I know. The most enthusiastic among us are also the quickest to dismiss the lack of profit potential as a legitimate reason for not bringing over their pet vehicle of choice, and I think part of this stems from not being able to give them a one-size-fits-all answer. Every single case is different, with wildly varying requirements for volume, pricing, regulatory compliance and other factors. But the theme remains the same. OEMs would not be able to recoup the cost of certifying the car through sales of the (often niche, low volume and/or expensive) vehicle.

While reading an old report from noted automotive consultant Glenn Mercer, I found this slide (above, and on page 10 of his report on Chinese cars), which outlines what it took to bring the Elise over to America. The pricetag: a whopping $50 million and 16 months time, and this is with a special airbag waiver that exempted them from having to install (and likely develop) FMVSS-complaint airbags – something that would have significantly added to the overall cost.

Is it likely that Lotus made money on the Elise? Who knows. Perhaps they were able to simultaneously federalize components for the European Elise and the Evora and realize some cost savings? Then again, given the constantly precarious financial situation Lotus seems to be in, maybe not. But at the very least, it gives us a perspective on how expensive it is to bring a low volume enthusiast model over to America. Think Audi can recoup the costs of something like an RS6 Avant  or even an S4 Avant given what it would cost? On the other hand, Mercedes, which already has both the E-Class wagon and the AMG V8 compliant with FMVSS, meaning much of the work and cost is already done. Now you know why our pleas often fall on deaf ears – and how blessed we are when we end up getting something cool.

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Project M1-11: The Story Of The Lotus Elise Mon, 28 Oct 2013 17:47:56 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Michael Banovsky of RM Auctions has been on a MK1 Lotus Elise kick. And why not? Canada’s more relaxed importation laws mean that owning a MK1 is a legal proposition, and the lucky guy has got the resources of one of the world’s best auction houses at his disposal.


Banovsky decided to pass on this documentary, which outlines the history of the Elise’s development in the aftermath of the Elan M100, which saw Lotus eliminated 300 jobs and lose a substantial amount of money. The end result was a monumental sports car that came to define Lotus for the next two decades and served as the unofficial benchmark for the segment.

The doc itself is also a nice look back at a bygone era – there was little concern for scale or volume, the word “brand” is not uttered even once, and there’s only a passing reference to emissions or the environment. The development team is largely concerned with making a car for a “really cool bloke” who might be a Ducati or a mechanical watch. That mentality would never exist today - nor would it be feasible. The current stasis that Lotus finds itself mired in makes it all the more interesting

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Exotic Cars: Buy, Or By The Hour? Today: Lotus Elise. A Future Writer Story Sat, 09 Feb 2013 15:55:45 +0000

Remember TTAC’s Future Writers Week? You chose the writers. The writers wrote. The stories are in (well, most of them …). Here is the first one. Do you like it? Tell us. The stories will be published in the sequence in which they arrived in TTAC’s mailbox.

I thought I was hard-core. People who complain about the Lotus Elise’s lack of creature comforts or suspension compliance are wimps I thought. Many of us would agree that pure driving pleasure outweighs most other considerations. The Elise is the ultimate test of this idea.  Buy or by the hour? Let’s do the test.

I had lusted after the Elise ever since seeing one in Europe in the late 1990‘s. Everything I had read about it perfectly meshed with my ideas about sports cars. After owning a ’91 Miata for almost ten years, owning the Elise was the next logical step. When I first sat in one in 2005 upon its release in the U.S., I knew I would own a used one someday. The styling was to die for, the cockpit was starkly beautiful in its own way, and the mechanical-feeling shifter was a joy.

Renting The Elise

Around 2007, my wife and I rented one in Vegas for the day and drove it hard for many miles on great twisty roads. It was my favorite bright red color and drove like a dream. As both a driver and passenger, I was pleasantly surprised that the car was not as rough or noisy inside, as I had been led to believe.

In 2009, after owning several Porsches and various BMW’s, I again rented an Elise in Vegas. Another red beauty, this time for 4 hours. I spent the entire 4 hours driving with only a 15-minute break for food, and loved every minute of it. Again, I had no issues with the noise or the firm suspension.

Renting verdict: Can’t possibly have more fun when paying by the hour.

Buying The Elise

Forward to 2012 and I finally bought an Elise (bright red of course). On the 5 1/2 hour drive home through Pennsylvania from the private seller’s house I had a great time but I also noticed that the interior noise level & ride were more intense than I remembered in Vegas. Hello reality — in the Northern Virginia / DC area where I live the roads are nothing like the smooth Vegas roads. Are there any other negatives? There sure are.

Big Negative #1: Parking Paranoia

Physically, I was the perfect Elise driver: I’m only 5’6” tall and very skinny, so climbing in & out of the car was no big deal (but hugely entertaining watching others try), and I fit well in the narrow seats. These seats however started to become a bit painful on my back after a few months of daily driving. Yes, I drove the car almost daily into DC to work (only one way during rush hour) and actually parallel parked it sometimes on those mean streets. I had fabricated a front license plate bracket to screw into the front tow hook hole and mounted it when parking to avoid tickets. Once I returned to my car to find this front place bent as someone had backed into it but luckily no damage to the all-one-piece front fiberglass clamshell piece.

Big Negative #2: Interior Noise Levels.

The engine sound was enjoyable but loud even with the stock exhaust — especially on the overrun. I would even sometimes shift to neutral to enjoy the silence while coasting to a stop. Sounds wimpy I know but we’re talking almost-daily driver here in heavy traffic and it was still just a massaged Toyota 4-banger not some exotic powerplant.

Complementing the engine sounds were massive amounts of interior road & wind noise. The soft top leaks air quite a bit at highway speeds and combined with the engine made the stereo pretty much unlistenable on the highway.

Big Negative #3: Unbelievably Bad Stereo

Anything above crawling speeds made the stereo virtually unlistenable. I immediately upgraded the stock front speakers which helped some, but it was still just a mess. I know that in a car like this listening to the stereo isn’t really the point but in a daily driver it’s a bit different. Many owners upgrade the audio but with such high interior noise levels this seems pointless.

Big Negative #4: Unbelievably Rough Ride

As mentioned, on my two Vegas joyrides I had no complaints, but on the rough streets in my area it was shocking how shocking the bumps were. Hitting large bumps or potholes produced such a loud & jarring shudder that I began to (rather unsafely) dodge such hazards at the expense of level-headed driving. Such bumps made me think that the car was being damaged every time — this feeling did not go away with familiarity even though I knew that the car could (probably) take it. It was just so unsettling to have the whole car crashing around me sounding like it was about to break in half.

Big Negative #5: Rough Road Handling

It is said and often written that “The Elise is one of the best handling cars ever made.” Any enthusiast has read such words many times, and yet my experience was quite different. The stiff suspension, low weight and short wheelbase are ideal for the track or smooth roads. However, in the real world of crumbling roads, mid-corner bumps would case the rear end to bounce sideways, thus eroding my confidence in the car’s abilities. Combined with the lack of stability control, the skittish rear end put a damper on some of the fun factor whenever I would push the car a bit. I have owned and driven many other sports cars and the Elise just didn’t make me feel like I could push too hard in my normal driving. For those of you wondering, the car had low miles, was never tracked or crashed and after purchase I had my dealer check all suspension bolt torques which were fine. One possible caveat is that the fairly new rear tires were not OEM but were some obscure brand I’d never heard of installed by the original owner. To me this would only apply to cornering grip and not bouncing around in a corner however. Cornering grip was still outstanding on smooth surfaces.


Big Negative #6: Wind Noise With the Top Removed

The Elise has no topless air management whatsoever. I’ve owned & driven many convertibles and the Lotus has the worst wind-management I’ve ever experienced. With the targa soft top removed, highway driving is almost unbearable from the wind noise unless you put the windows up. Removing & installing the top is just enough of a pain to encourage you to leave it on most of the time, and when removed, it’s difficult to stow in the trunk so it takes up the passenger footwell.

I owned the Lotus for about 7 months and am very glad I did, but the driving experience along with the practicalities (Parking! Fiberglass body! Backaches!) just weren’t working for my driving in my area with heavy traffic & poor road conditions.

I still think it’s one of the best-looking cars ever made, and I loved the shift feel (which is strangely criticized by many owners on the LotusTalk forum). I also enjoyed the unique interior and overall “exoticness” of the car along with the direct unfiltered mid-engined driving experience.

Buying verdict:  Definitely not a hassle-free marriage

The Final Verdict

Elise is fun by the hour, but a drama queen in daily life. I highly recommend renting the Elise when visiting Vegas or LA, but owning it should be approached with caution…

Jeff Snavely lives in Northern Virginia (suburban Washington DC) and is a military musician by trade. A lifelong car enthusiast, he has owned many used cars over the years – mostly German along with a few Saabs and some Japanese as well.

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