By on March 27, 2012

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.

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23 Comments on “Lotus And Mansory Team Up In World’s Most Vulgar Alliance...”

  • avatar

    Here’s my opinion: whatever works is good.

    They need to get rich people buying their cars because car nuts alone can’t support a modern production car company. If people like Mansonry kit, that’s great. It looks like Mansonry has kept it reasonably tasteful for the Evora gear.

    I would like to see Lotus stay in business. Say what you all want, but the Exige V6 is an epic supercar, and the Evora GTE street derivative, if it comes, will be very sweet indeed. The new Esprit is likely to be a stunning handler, and even a new Elise that meets modern crash standards is likely to be 300-400 lbs. lighter than a Boxster/Cayman.

    No matter what, Lotus has stunning chassis engineering, and is a huge asset to the automotive world. I am happy applaud anything that might keep them around.

    • 0 avatar

      “They need to get rich people buying their cars because car nuts alone can’t support a modern production car company.”

      Shout this from the hilltops

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve been trying, but you nailed it above: people think the brand value narrative is real. It’s not. There is no DNA. There is no aura beyond a bunch of logos and branding. These are machines – beautiful machines, some of them. There are better and worse engineering teams, different legacy issues. The best machines should win.

        The sad thing is that the people who should know better – the enthusiasts – have been the biggest suckers of all. I expect rich guys who know nothing about cars to buy Ferraris because they have a good narrative. I don’t expect driving enthusiasts to decry a company making good cars because they are trying to reinvent the brand. Jalopnik leads the way in doing the cars a disservice because they:

        1. Don’t like Bahar
        2. Don’t understand the basic constraints of modern automotive platforms.
        3. Don’t recognize that actual sales are needed to keep a company alive.
        4. Don’t like Bahar

        They claim they want light weight, but then act like 650 hp Mustangs or 580 hp ZL1s are the epitome of automotive achievement. People are too terminally cool to realize that the narratives of all the car companies are invented by PR people, and that Lotus is just trying to play catch up to stay alive.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on that. I’m a Lotus fanboy and have actually, you know, purchased them, and didn’t buy an Evora in part because the styling was neither track-car exciting (like an Exige) nor drive-to-the-office understated (like the similar mid-engined 2+2 Maseratis of the 1970s). It’s clear that the majority of people who actually pay MSRP for new mid-engined sports cars want them to be flashy and aggressively styled, with lots of F1-echoing surface detailing and carbon fiber accents like a Ferrari. So Lotus has introduced a variant that gives those buyers what they want. Would I like something that looks more like a Maserati Bora or Lamborghini Urraco? Sure, but there aren’t nearly as many of me as there are Aramco dividendees who want something that shouts above the din of Continental GTs in the carpark at the Burj Dubai. If this is what it takes to keep Lotus afloat to build more Exiges, well, it’s way less dilutive to the brand than a Cayenne Hybrid is.

  • avatar

    “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).”

    The Elise and Exige went a bit beyond capitalizing on a made up narrative. Lotus Cars really did happen. They really built innovative, light, fragile cars that set the pace in both open wheel and sports car racing. They really did bring a number of products to market that were so light and handled so well that they were as durable as flowers while performing like cars with twice the power. The Elise and Exige didn’t require a history to be created. They were merely a modern interpretation of the cars that made Lotus famous far beyond its any-time market share.

    It is true they are getting old. I don’t know that anyone was calling for perpetual production like with the ‘made up narrative’ Lotus 7. Time marches on, and I think ‘fanboys’ just wanted the next Lotus to be a real Lotus. Hopefully one that incorporated new materials manufacturing technology to do even more with even less mass and displacement. One man’s fanboy is another man’s adult that actually knows what he’s talking about.

    • 0 avatar

      The Variable Vehicle Architecture in the Evora *is* innovative. Lotus’ approach to bonded aluminum is being copied around the industry. Short of carbon fiber, it is the standard for light weight construction, and it is far more adaptable and affordable.

      The Evora is heavier than the Exige because:

      1. Modern crash and pedestrian standards are more difficult than they were when the Elise was designed.

      2. It has a real interior. That is (unfortunately) needed to drive sales.

      3. You can get into and out of it without folding in half.

      4. It has more power. More power means bigger brakes, bigger tires, bigger driveline components. They had taken the Exige Cup 260 as far as it would go as far as weight reduction. It was under 2000 lbs, and it had as much horsepower as a small four would get without insane turbocharging. NO ONE bought them. They had to follow the curve of power.

      And yet, the Evora still weighs less than a 911. It weighs less than a carbon fiber MP4-12C, which the automotive press delighted in telling us had the logo laser etched to save weight.

      What the hell do people want? It’s not like Lotus can wave a magic wand to get supercar performance, modern convenience, and hit modern transportation requirements for 500 lbs. than everyone else.

      Colin Chapman made cars that fell apart. The original Esprit fell apart if you sneezed on it – and it weighed over 3000 lbs. when it was finally done. It’s not like some magic has been lost.

      I hope that the FT86 heralds in a new era of light and quick. I would love to see a new Elise/Exige that was around 2400 lbs. Lotus have said they would do it right after the new Esprit. I think they would if they could get the cash. I hope they make it that long before the complainers bring them down.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think many people want the Evora. I certainly don’t see too many of them in places where 911s and Gallardos are common sights. The Esprit series 1 weighed about 2,200 lbs and performed comparably to sports cars that had engines at least 50% larger. The execution was pretty second rate, also true to the Lotus creed. It was developed over a period of twenty years into something heavy and ungainly, which did nothing to help sales. They moved less than 11,000 Esprits in 28 years. The Elise, by contrast, sold over 20,000 cars in its first 10 years of production. I can’t find the total, but it was by far the best selling Lotus of all time. They’re still quite popular at track days. If the 2,500 car a year niche isn’t viable, then I can’t see their chances of matching development dollars with VW and Ferrari for the high end GT business being particularly good. The Evora is a Cayenne competitor in everything but price, and that’s with the cost savings of using a high volume engine from another manufacturer. Throw in the cost of trying to amortize bespoke drivetrains over production runs in the 3,000 car range and the cost will be stratospheric. I’m not convinced that producing an all-carbon Elise successor will make any money, but it would add more to the market than a 2nd-rate Ferrari competitor will.

      • 0 avatar

        CJ, the issue is the same one Mazda has with the Miata: it sold well, but everyone who wanted one has already bought one or could buy a really nice used one for a fraction of the cost of a new model.

        Lotus really tried with the Exige. The updates were significant, and made the car faster, lighter, and more track-friendly. They didn’t sell. The cars probably actually need a slight break. If a new Elise is released in a couple years, it will get a better response.

        And you’re right that people don’t want the Evora, but they don’t want it because it’s not well finished enough or exotic enough, either in performance or aesthetics. They brought in a Porsche interior person to fix the former issue, and the GTE is supposed to fix the latter two, at least until they can get the new cars out.

        Finally, there is an elephant in the room: the rich have gotten richer and the middle class is not doing so well. Sports cars from $30K-$60K are selling like crap. Toyota was smart to bring the FT86 in low. Porsche, Ferrari, Bentley, and all the new supercar folks are making record numbers up high. I’m not trying to be populist, but the 1% are still buying toys. And they want toys that look expensive and have lots of horsepower. This is exactly what Lotus is seeing, and exactly why the Esprit got the nod for the next release.

      • 0 avatar

        imag – good point in the last paragraph, as borne out by Audi cancelling their small sportscar

      • 0 avatar

        I think there is another point here that bears raising. Supercars don’t have to be practical. Hell, they don’t even have to be that reliable. My guess is that less expensive cars have to be more practical because there aren’t a dozen other cars in the garage of people who buy less expensive cars.

        In my family we have two cars, a sedan and a SUV. I’m looking to move up with my next car purchase which will replace the sedan. Coming from a major car maker and getting into a Lotus is a shock. The most evolved Lotus, the Evora, is difficut to get in and out of, the interior controls are disappointing for a car this expensive, the trunk is a joke it is so small, etc. Next to a Porsche, the Evora is crude. Compare a Porsche to an Exige or Elise and the Lotus is positively barbaric.

        Most of my driving not done for the specific purpose of driving. It’s driving while taking care of life’s errands, shopping, weekend getaways, etc. This is where Lotus fails. Lotus, at its best, builds cars designed to drive well first, and everything else is a distant second. That does not work for most of us in the modern world where it is hard to even find a road where a Lotus could shine outside of a track.

        Lotus can build supercars where practical considerations do not matter. But if Lotus wants to sell cars at the Elise/Exige price points, they will have to offer some modicum of practicality.

    • 0 avatar

      “One man’s fanboy is another man’s adult that actually knows what he’s talking about.”

      Yes, and one man’s “adult” is another man’s know-it-all that snipes at his peers’ snobbish-but-fragile European cars from behind the ridiculous digital dashboard of his Civic.

      • 0 avatar

        I gave the response merited by calling people fanboys that believe marketing hype for the crime of wanting Lotus to build Lotuses. The Civic dashboard has an acclimatization period, but it works great. I miss it when I’m driving other cars. I’m not sure it really needed to be a yard deep though. BTW, I still have a BMW in the fleet, as I’m reminded every year at state inspection time, when it needs hundreds of dollars of repairs to pass. It’s going in favor of a new CR-V pretty soon though, hopefully before next time it needs new suspension components for the third year running or its Xth battery or its fourth transmission in less than 100,000 miles.

  • avatar

    The Merc AMG Black series isn’t exactly the epitome of good taste either. Hopefully Lotus has the good sense to do something similiar and give Mansory the Hot-Import-Nights-escapee market, while producing more restrained versions themselves.

  • avatar

    This strikes me as a desperate attempt to generate sales when you have no new product. All of their car are getting very long in the tooth and it is not clear how much (if any) money is available to develop new product and bring it to market. This alliance may buy Lotus a little time, but probably not much. All we can do is hope it gets them the time they need. But a move like this cannot be a good sign.

    Is it time to start a Lotus Death Watch???

  • avatar

    FWIW, that Evora up top is some of the most tasteful, restrained work I’ve ever seen come out of Mansory’s workshops. Anyone unfamiliar with handiwork (and haven’t recently eaten lunch) can see more of it here:

    • 0 avatar

      Wow – the only thing missing from that 2009 Masonry Vitesse Rose is an interior photo showing the exposed crotch of some young, dumb and full of cum celebutante on her way back from Promises for the (h)umpteenth time.

  • avatar

    Call me crazy, but I like some of Mansory’s work. Stuff like that SLS AMG above, or the Cayenne-based Chopster are just bizarre and unfortunate, but I wouldn’t kick the Mansory Maserati GranTurismo and Panamera, or the 599-based Stallone out of my garage.

  • avatar

    As a long time owner of a 1965 Lotus Elan S2 I’m becoming more disheartened in everything Lotus has been doing in the last couple of years.

  • avatar

    There was a somewhat worn but perfectly drivable and restorable series 2 Lotus Elan over at Bring A Trailer just the other day. It got me thinking of my own S2 Elan sitting in pieces in what is now my ex’s garage. I don’t have the money to restore it, but there’s stuff I could do myself and at least work on it, but when i saw the press release in my email, I thought to myself, do I really want to drive a car from a brand that has an official tie-up with a tuning shop that rivals Unique Whips and West Coast Customs for bad taste?

  • avatar

    Loud red paintjob is loud, I want.

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