Automobile Magazine's Must-Read Essay On The Future Of Lotus
Ben Oliver’s essay in Automobile Magazine might be the best one I’ve read on Lotus and their existential predicament. While my own pieces are full of vitriol and cursing, Ben’s eloquent prose outlines the brand’s biggest problem; lacking the necessary volumes, they need to take advantage of economies of scale and high margins to survive as an auto maker. Sports cars that compete in the Porsche Cayman’s price range and performance envelope aren’t popular with buyers nor do they generate the volumes or profits necessary to keep an independent sports car maker afloat. The proposed option, a series of high-end sports cars built off a modular platform (similar to the Lotus-derived Aston Martin VH architecture) was met with little fanfare. The economic principles were sound, but the proposal alienated the faithful. Over to you, Best & Brightest.
Lotus needs a greater reason to survive than 'add lightness'. That's a philosophy, but it's not a raison d'etre. It can't survive as the maker of a great track-day car, there's not enough volume. It has to be either a lot smaller (like Cateram) or bigger (like Porsche). Right now it's neither able or willing to go in either direction. You can't just slap the Lotus badge on a brand new line... there's no history. It wouldn't work for Toyota to re-badge their how sports car line as 'Lotus', the narrative just isn't there. (Also, I find it a tremendous shame that because of their tortured corporate history, they have long since been forgotten of as one of the pioneers of automotive active suspension). Except for a loose (and confusing) branding exercise in F-1, it doesn't meaningfully race against other marques, but that's what Lotus ought to be about. Race on Sunday, sell on Monday. Ferrari understands this tremendously, and going back to il Commedatore, has never been too shy about which came first, the road cars or racing. Porsche backed away from all out competitive racing. They were strong in Group C, but terrible in F-1 and only dabbled in CART. They're no longer about the competition (racing against yourself in a Porsche Cup series doesn't build a marque), but can sustain themselves trying to bleed customers off of Mercedes and BMW. Lotus can't just position in the high-end anymore. The market is tightening up and there's no room for a company without a clear purpose. Whatever they do, it has to be about racing, or it just wouldn't be Lotus.
The obvious buyer is Nissan/Renault. They already call their factory F1 team Lotus, and they could seriously use a lesson in making sports cars that weigh less than Richard Petty's old Superbird.
Hyundai shall buy Lotus.
Honda is perhaps the best possible fit for Lotus. Lotus can do suspension and chassis engineering for Honda, and Honda can provide off-the-line engines for limited Lotus sportscars. Whatever you may say about where Honda is now, they still produce exceptionally sweet motors like the K-seeries. The lightweight R-series engines would be a good fit for "basic" Elises, too. In the end, Lotus will eventually become nothing but an engineering armand perhaps a trim line for whichever big dog buys it. All because people didn't want a Lotus minivan. Yes, I thought the idea was brilliant. And, oh... TTAC did an article on how great another automotive publication's writing is. Suck on that.