By on December 15, 2010

Lotus has perplexed and antagonized a number of auto enthusiasts by announcing its intent to expand beyond niche sportscars and become a global sport-luxe brand in the vein of Porsche and Ferrari. By announcing five future cars at once, Lotus made an audacious splash in the industry, and painted a giant target on its back. At the same time, Lotus’s initial plans called for the use of Toyota V8s and hybrid systems, leading some to wonder if Lotus was even being audacious enough. After all, assuming it could play with Porsche’s and Ferraris using only mass-market customer engines was somehow cravenly conservative to the point of being obnoxiously ballsy. Surely Lotus realizes that bespoke drivetrains are crucial to building a global sportscar brand? Well, apparently the Hethel boys didn’t get it… at least until their potential customers made an issue of it.

Lotus CEO Dany Bahar tells Autocar that, after talking the issue over with prospective clients, he came to the realization that

In the mind of sports-car enthusiasts, Toyota power might not be good enough… We have done three engines for other manufacturers; why not do it ourselves?” he said. “The engine is the heart of a sports car; we should do our own product.

Gosh, you think? But Lotus was already working with a $1.2b turnaround budget that would have to cover development costs on five world-class performance cars, not to mention advertising, dealer net expansion and more. The question now is whether Lotus can afford to develop an engine family on top of all the work it still has to do. Bahar’s staff is studying the feasability of developing a V8 for the Esprit and a V6 for the Elan, and they say that developing an engine in-house could help create commonalities between the three planned mid-engined models (Esprit, Elan and Elise).

But the decision to build an engine at Hethel won’t actually be made until the end of January, and Bahar admits that neither prestige, nor customer input will play into the call, because

The decision then will be purely financial

So Lotus will probably be the Lexus sportscar division after all…

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45 Comments on “Under Customer Pressure, Lotus Backs Away From Toyota Engines...”

  • avatar

    I don’t think I’d buy one without a Toyota engine.  Even plebian engines make quite a bit of power now days (compare a high-tech 328i with a Toyota 3.5L).  Furthermore, the Toyota engine is the only thing that would give me confidence in the reliability and affordibility of repair of a Lotus.  They should tune them up a bit…maybe light supercharging or something, but stick with the Toyota for all but the most exotic models.

    Maybe for in-between models, they can get an off the shelf engine from a higher end maker that doesn’t compete directly with Lotus. I’m thinking a BMW M-engine or something.

    Lotus just doesn’t have that much experience building engines. I think there’d be a lot of problems. On the other hand, I have a coworker who doesn’t make any more than me and puts it all into his Ferrari F430. It costs a fortune to maintain. I suggested the Evora as a more affordable alternative, or even a used Ford GT. No interest. I think they need the engine for the chachet. I think it’ll make it less of a real enthusiasts car though.

    I just don’t see Lotus being able to beat Ferrari, Porche, and Lamborghini at their own games. In a $100k + GT, I’d rather have any of those. In a <$70k driver's car, give me a nice chassis with an engine I can beat the hell out of without breaking, and when it does break or wear out, it's cheap to fix or replace, and will have parts available for decades.

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree.  The last Lotus V8 was great on paper, but not so hot in reality.  A twin-turbo Lexus V8 is a great mid-range supercar motor.  The supercharged 6 is perfect for the Elan.
      Issues like this reveal the problems with the rich-ignorant crowd they are pursuing.  Those folks won’t be happy until it costs as much as a Ferrari.  Bummer.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Locock

      “Lotus just doesn’t have that much experience building engines. ”

      Two from the ground up (the slant 4 and the V8) , and numerous power intensive conversions, plus the stuff they have done for other OEMs.

    • 0 avatar

      “Two from the ground up (the slant 4 and the V8) , and numerous power intensive conversions, plus the stuff they have done for other OEMs.”

      Like I said.

      Also, how are those V8’s holding up?  How is parts availability?  What kind of compromised transmission did they have to hook up to it?

      I’d be fine with them building up a Toyota 3.5.  Maybe lower compression ratio, higher boost, steel crank, better pistons, bigger injectors, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      While Toyota’s cars tend to be beyond beige, they do make some standout engines, like, for example, the 2ZZ 1.8L that Lotus has used (previously featured in the Celica GTS). It’s revvy, robust, easy and cheap to work on, and takes well to all manner of power upgrades. Why *wouldn’t* Lotus want to keep using it?

    • 0 avatar

      Toyota’s 2ZZ 1.8L was designed by Yamaha but is very long in the tooth now.  It was made to compete with Honda’s DOHC VTEC engine technology from the 90’s.  It is no longer really competitive in today’s market with a very peaky powerband.  It simply isn’t good enough for Lotus – especially now that they are using the Camry’s v6.

  • avatar

    Even if you didn’t want to go with a Toyota power plant, there are many existing quality performance engine’s to choose from. BMW has supplied engines to many manufacturers for years.
    If I were Lotus I would shop around for an existing engine that can bring reliability, low cost, and prestige together (i.e. BMW M, MB AMG, Even Aston Martin if it has to be ‘British’).

    • 0 avatar

      Aston Martin brings up a good point. I’m pretty sure their engine development is closely associated with Ford.  I read they use facilities and parts sharing at a special development center AT Fords Cologne engine facility.  They just hide it or use better marketing to not devalue the brand.

  • avatar

    Tony Quiroga, writing for your whipping-boy, C/D: Despite Lotus’s tweaks, the Toyota V-6 cannot escape feeling like what it is: a minivan engine hiding out in a sports car.
    Lotus has always been about handling (more or less), and in any case what are they supposed to do given their budget constraints–bring back the 907 Jensen-Healey “torque-master?”

  • avatar

    I think if they go at designing an engine, it will break them or the resulting car will be terrible.

  • avatar

    is called between a rock & a hard place  or catch 22.
    Making her own engine is neither going to be ready by Spring
    nor as reliable as Toyo engines.
    Lotus own engines do sound better, unlike the old days all the big Vee 8 were from one of the big 3.  Only way is to revive the V8 Lotus had and catch up with current smog. that alone can be a real Monkee wrench.
    They go up market didnt realize it has so many double edge swords. Now is a bit too late to stay where it was.

  • avatar

    I’ve been considering an Elise for awhile now as a fun weekend car.  One of the biggest attractions as far as I’m concerned is the fact that it has a resonably reliable Toyota drivetrain.  Without that, I’m no longer interested. 

  • avatar

    They’d be crazy to get away from the Toyota (or someone else similar) engines. Lotus cars have performance over a generic Toyota with their lighter weight – or should anyway. A little intake and exhaust tuning to make all the right noises is all that is needed.

  • avatar

    Judging by what they have shown recently, Lotus’ engines already have little in common with Toyota’s engine.  In the Elan they’ve shown a 400-470hp (supercharged) 4L V-6 that is derived from the Toyota Camry (already in the Evora GT4 cup), but probably has little in common other then the engine block.
    The new 5L V-8s that are Yamaha designed, and in the ISF, is suppose to produce 612hp in the Lotus, also has a dual-clutch transmission and a KERS style hybrid (no relation to Toyota).  Lotus has yet to touch the 4.8L V-10 in the LFA that weighs less then Toyota’s V6 engines, and would be a perfect match for Lotus.
    But its a branding issue.  And branding is really what high-end sports cars are all about.  Even if they are related to Toyota engines in one form of another, Lotus merely needs to brand them as something uniquely ‘Lotus’.  If the performance gap is big enough, no one would mistake a dry-sumped 470hp supercharged 4L V6 in a Lotus from the Camry its derived from.

  • avatar

    This is insanity

    The direct injected V6 from the IS350 puts out 306hp and 277tq… it can be easily modified from Lotus’s side to put out 310-350hp. As a side note, the v6 from the IS350 has been out for 4+ years and has only recently seen it’s torque output eclipsed. However, it is still anywhere from 100cc to 200cc smaller in displacement so the power density is still superior to all other V6’s except for the Porsche Panamera 3.6 unit which outs out an amazing 295tq’s.

    With a TRD supercharger, the figures would be around the Stasis modified S4 supercharged V6 figures…

    If anything, the ‘powered by Toyota’ designation made these vehicles contenders.

    With respect to V8 powetrains… the ISF/GS460/LS460 vehicles have little to apologize for on the engine front….

    I just dont understand the issue here….

    • 0 avatar

      Status.  Sort of the same situation if suddenly Ferrari started dropping Hemi’s into their cars.  Maybe more horsepower, definitely less maintenance costs, but the cognescenti wouldn’t touch it.  When you’re paying that kind of money, you demand ‘bespoke’.

  • avatar

    I wonder who they have been getting this feedback from. I haven’t heard much grumbling from actual Lotus owners about Toyota engines, rather the other way around.
    Who the heck wants an unproven, English engine in a car actually intended for driving hard? In theory, for real track junkies on slicks, dry sump racing engines may be a better choice, but I’d still rather have them developed and built by Toyota, than by some garage operation in England if it was my money. What could possibly be better than having your engines quirks worked out in a few hundred thousand Celicas, SEs or whatnot. And it’s not like “Japanese” engines in “English” chassis doesn’t have a “proud racing history”, for those invested in that kind of symbolism.
    As pertains to Porsche, most of their engines are pretty darned utilitarian, despite the flat 6 being of a somewhat unusual configuration. Ferraris are different, but man, do you pay for that specialness, both up front and in maintenance/repair over the life of the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      This is something enthusiasts aren’t understanding.  I see derivations of this sentiment all over, including massive absurd articles on Jalopnik.
      Lotus isn’t selling cars right now.  Modern car companies simply can’t make it selling a few hundred cars a year.   We can rant on all we want about what makes a great car, but it simply is not what sells.  Se7ens are awesome.  I want one dearly.  But the number of se7ens manufactured worldwide is probably far less than the volume of a single special edition Boxster.
      In other words, the current owners are not the market they are looking for.  They need Porsche and Ferrari buyers, the majority of whom are complete morons who just go for what they think makes them look good.  Those people usually care about marketed pedigree over substance.  Those people are where the margins are, not trackday enthusiasts, who will go to the aftermarket before they pay an outrageous $5K for a stainless exhaust (*cough* Porsche).
      I still totally agree with your sentiment.  I just am pointing out why they can’t listen to us.

  • avatar

    TVR began to make its own engines during the 1990s. It seemed like a great idea and the company made some very powerful units, but then the reliability problems appeared. Where is TVR now? There’s just too many good off-the-shelf options to use or even modify for Lotus to go down this road.

    • 0 avatar

      TVR is an excellent illustration of the result of being too ambitious. They were very successful for a short period of time too, but then reality hit their customers like a brick. Lotus’ plans were absurdly optimistic before they decided to throw an engine program or two into the mix. If Rover and Toyota engines were good enough for the Elise, they’re obviously going after a different group of customers this time. How many rich ignoramuses are left? I’d think Porsche-Audi-Lamborghini-Bugatti-Bentley was already having an intramural battle royal over every last one.

  • avatar

    I’m all for unique Lotus engines, but I don’t see how they’d be able to afford it right now.

    In the short term they should take those Toyota engines, give them to Yamaha for some tweaking, and replace all the Toyota badges with Yamaha.  Best of all worlds!

  • avatar

    Foolish purism
    Who cares
    People complain about Toyota engines, but would not buy a $300K Espirit, which would be the end result of Lotus trying to turn a profit after developing it’s own engines
    Seriously, what would be the differences between a Lotus V6 block/head, and a Toyota one? I’m sure Lotus has the ports & various parts modified to better fit the intended purpose. I mean nobody complained about the 2ZZ in the Elise…

    • 0 avatar

      “nobody complained about the 2ZZ in the Elise…”
      People did, but most of them wanted it replaced with a K series Honda motor :)

    • 0 avatar

      The k20 has done very well in the Atom (a lot of owners in the US – engine came with the Ecotec as Leno and Brammo worked a deal to replace the Honda engine with it…lots of buyers opted for the K20 or had one installed after the fact).  The fact is the k20 is a more modern engine than the 2ZZ 1.8 and it is built for racing / abuse.

  • avatar

    …reliable, high-performance toyota drivetrains are the most unique advantage the new lotus cars will offer over their competition…lotus should stick to their original plan of having cosworth rework the toyota motors, and offer the best of both worlds:  prestigious branding and affordable maintenance…

  • avatar
    Mike C.

    Put “Lotus” on the cam covers and 90% of the new buyers (gold chain crowd) will ever know the difference…

    • 0 avatar

      +If they can just control the propaganda correctly, it would be even better.
      Besides, if so many hipo cars can be based off the LS-series of engines, just slightly massage the ports, throw some moderately different pistons in it and slap that Lotus badge over, or beside the AMG, M-Power, etc. logo.
      The Toyota thing is a positive. Perhaps they have to protect the high margin customers from themselves , esp. reliability-wise, by creatively lying to them.
      +Also: They could do Toyota engines in everything up to $65-$80k, anything above gets either a BMW, M-Power or AMG, esp. the Esprit.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    Here’s an even crazier idea – get some Ecoboost V6 engines from Ford.

    Then have Cosworth tune them to produce 420 relatively reliable horsepower.

    Lotus and Ford have gotten together before for the Lotus Cortina as well as Jim Clark’s Lotus/Ford F1 car, and the results have been good.

  • avatar

    The Evora is a vehicle I want to own some day because it is sexy, exotic, but I can still run down to the Toyota dealer and grab a water pump for the 2GR.  A Lotus designed mill that wasn’t designed to go 300k miles and will require a 3 hr drive or mail order to get <i>any</i> parts is something that gets a car removed from my “to buy” list.  Lotus probably doesn’t care, though, because I’m in no position to buy a new Lotus… yet.

  • avatar

    But I thought the Toyota engine was the most reliable part of a Lotus.

  • avatar

    Either we are going to look back on this as a brilliant move by Lotus or an unmitigated disaster. I don’t think it will be anywhere in the middle. Part of me wants them to succeed so that the new “old” Lotuses (Exige, Elise) that I love will become that much more affordable. Every time I get to drive either an Exige or an Elise it is a pure, wonderful event. Even if it is powered by Toyota.

  • avatar

    How’s this for a strategy? Put laptop batteries into a Lotus chassis, put a big electric motor in it, and create a new nameplate and dealer network from scratch. I’m sure it’ll be raking in huge profits from year one! Like, how could it possibly fail?

  • avatar

    My information is that Toyota are playing tougher on access to engine tech in the works and Lotus are trying to beat down the price on the renewed contract due next year.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    The decision then will be purely financial

    Well, then, this whole discussion is moot. Buying engines from Toyota is cheaper than developing your own from scratch, no? After ditching reliable, proven Toyota motors for those brand-new, untested Lotus-brand engines, and teething problems surface after being sold, how much extra will that cost Lotus?

  • avatar

    Maybe they’ll go the Porsche route and owners can experience the exclusivity of an awesome engine that requires replacement every 2 years.
    Maybe they can go the Ferrari route and owners can experience the exclusivity of 5 figure yearly maintenance cost.
    Maybe they can go the Lambo route so owners can experience the exclusivity of rebuilding the top end every 30K.

  • avatar

    Should they go with their own engine my interest would shift towards a Rossion or Noble.  Exclusivity and a proven engine.  Or buy a used Elise.

  • avatar

    What is so bad about Lotus using heavily modified engines
    If Lotus were smart they would have just kept quiet, or alluded to the simple fact that the Elise everyone currently jizzes over shares an engine with an out of production Corolla
    Part of Lotus whole heritage is its ability to take a run of the mill engine and make it something special. So tired of armchair critics

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