By on September 24, 2014

Lotus assembly plantBrits love British cars. Even if the vast majority of traditionally British brands are now foreign-owned – Tata runs Jaguar and Land Rover, for example, and Rolls-Royce and Bentley belong to BMW and Volkswagen, respectively – the loyalty carved out by these famous automakers is tangible.

Lotus’s forthcoming departure from the American market is of little surprise to enthusiasts familiar with the company’s situation. Malaysia’s Proton owns the company, but unlike the aforementioned British brands, Lotus has not held on to any meaningful trace of the UK car market.

Of course, this has plenty to do with the actual Lotus sports car range and very little, perhaps nothing, to do with the location of the brand’s HQ. This is a brand that has basically existed in a form of turmoil from the get-go. The most recent plans to produce a relatively massive five car lineup, after being roundly mocked for their extravagance, were squashed. Just last week Lotus announced that the size of its workforce may need to be dramatically reduced.

Thus, there’s nothing to suggest that Lotus should be anything but a low-volume sports car brand. But an extraordinarily low-volume sports car brand? A totally forgotten sports car brand? A mostly ignored sports car brand? And in their home market?

This year, the U.S. market is slightly more than seven times the size of the United Kingdom’s car market. The UK industry is somewhat more comparable to the Canadian market in terms of total sales. Yet Bentley sales in the U.S. aren’t even double what Bentley achieves in the UK. This year, Jaguar sales in the UK are up 14%, and Jaguar is selling more cars in the UK than in the United States. Land Rover UK volume is on par with Land Rover volume in America. U.S. sales at Mini are only 32% better than Mini sales in the UK.

But Lotus has only sold 153 cars in the United Kingdom this year. That represents a 22-unit increase through eight months. In fact, Lotus sales in August were reportedly up 167% to 24 units. Yet at levels this low, the “trend” is hardly applicable. This is simply not the kind of volume an automaker requires to stay alive in a market which is chugging along at nearly 200,000 monthly units.

We don’t have access to Lotus’s U.S. sales – that’s not something they publish. (Automotive News reported an estimate of 112 sales in the first two-thirds of 2014.) The issue isn’t the cross-Atlantic comparison, but rather the gradual decline of Lotus closer to its Hethel home. During the first eight months of 2008, for instance, Lotus had sold 479 cars in the UK. Lotus had sold 628 cars in its home market through the first eight months of 2004, just one decade ago, 2.7 times the total achieved by Aston Martin. Yes, Aston Martin does fairly well in the UK, too, though sales are down 10% this year. For every one Lotus sold in the UK this year, according to the SMMT, Brits buy 3.6 Astons.

The concern here isn’t for the enthusiast who is just now realizing he may never drive a reincarnated Elan around Elkhart Lake’s Road America. (News that Lotus may return to the U.S. in 2016 with the Evora, requiring dealers to soldier on with no road cars, led Jalopnik’s Patrick George to rightly ask, “Can they make it?”)

Instead, the concern should justifiably be that, in the very near future, Lotus will be nothing more than the suspension tuner for the Hyundai Genesis, with perhaps no car lineup of its own.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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20 Comments on “Lotus Isn’t Healthy In Its Home Market, Either...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Wait – that’s a factory in the picture?! I thought they were built in someone’s garage.

    Also – wasn’t Lotus to supply rollers for the mythical Detroit Electric EV?

  • avatar

    Lotus forms the proverbial vicious circle. Too small to make a serious dent in the sports car market, therefore lacking decent funding. Lacking support by a big brother OEM means dwindling down market appeal, sales and development money. Lotus is one of those truly legendary names in motoring other car makers envy. Not envy enough, evidently, for a conglomerate like Volkswagen or BMW, not even a Chinese investor, to actually want to own the brand… and that should say enough I guess.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Oh dear, I didn’t realize that Lotus had turned into Bristol.

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Correct, not much love for Lotus here in Britain. The uncertainty over its future is killing resale values. The Elise is great, but long in the tooth. The Evora is decent enough, but most buyers in that price range prefer the Porsche Cayman (better resale value) or the BMW M3/M4 (broader set of skills).

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    “Of course, this has plenty to do with the actual Lotus sports car range and very little, perhaps nothing, to do with the location of the brand’s HQ.”

    You sure? A move to SoHo might help….

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Maybe Toyota can pick them up on the cheap and re-badge the Elise and/or Exige as a new MR2?

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    This would probably be a good brand for Tata to add to their British car portfolio. Between Jag, Land Rover, and Lotus they would be a full-line manufacturer.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    Its all about product, or lack of product development.

    Lotus is a great name whose reach is far greater than its punch. Every automotive publication writes about them and any new subtle model change. Many peoiple and most enthusiasts buy cars they read about in auto publications, so Lotus has mega pr for its size.

    Yes Bahr wasted hundreds of millions, but the world is as we find it today.

    Lotus makes two cars the Eilge and evora.

    The Elige series is grreat, just long in tooth in terms of devlopment. These cars need new mtors, going from the celica to prius mtoor is not an up grade. They now need motors with real punch. They are easy to retsyle as the bodies are glass panels, and the bodywork can even be CF for soem weigth loss. Interioirs two can sue an up garde.

    So change the exterior looks, redo the inetrior and new powerplant, you have essentialya new car. Powerplants are the most impiortant, most people who wanta n elige own one, if you wnat to sell more htere needs to be a serious performance up grade, pref with a NA motor.

    The evora. At 85k its in a netehr zone, not cheap enough to justify its exiostance, not well endowed enough to command ahigher price zone. Its the price of a porche, similar perfomace on paper and seriouly worse build with scant dealer coverage.

    The evora needs a restyle esp in the front end, it looks too bland, the mansori version ironicaly looked great. The interiors are fine. It also needs a motor upgrade to put it into a different bracket. the Toyota V6 can go to 420hp, or alternatively put the lexus V8 in, then you have instant supercar. Do the bodies in CF to loose a few hundred pounds. A 2800lb car with 420-500hp is going to own and dominate its market space. It will occupy the zone of the late lamented 997 Gt3, which sold 1500 per year. Lotus can own this space for $120K.

    the the track specials, put the 211 back into production, and if you sell an exige v6 in the USa for track only thne sell the cup version not the street version.

    In short Lotus has some great products, they need a little devlopment, but more importantly they need direction.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Globalization is bad for minor players like this. The big fish get bigger and bigger until the little fish can’t compete, match the efficiencies or keep up with the R&D.

    Lotus has been in trouble for decades. They can’t possibly keep up with the likes of Porsche. It would take something short of a miracle to change this; at this point, it’s probably too late.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Lotus sucks at being Ferrari (Espirit, stillborn models) and Porsche (Evora) but is good at being Lotus (Elise/Exige). Lotus, go grab one of any of the new 4cyl turbo engines cluttering the market, and throw it in a 5% bigger (for us fat Americans) chassis that has plastic instead of eggshell bumpers and make the $40k Miata with balls so many of us want. The purists will scream it weighs 2300 or 2500lbs instead of 1950, but purists don’t buy new cars anyways. There’s a massive hole between the nutless $25k Miata and the $55k+ Corvette/Boxster Etc for a real sports car. Fill it.

  • avatar
    ccode81

    “Closed” Japanese market registered 200 Lotus this year!
    http://www.jaia-jp.org/wp-content/uploads/201408NewCarNews.pdf

  • avatar
    Fred

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Lotus has rarely been a successful manufacutre of automobiles. The problem as I see it is that who ever owns them want them to be something they are not.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I was going to say exactly that and you beat me to it. In the really good years, Lotus has managed to pay their bills. I doubt they have ever actually turned a profit. I give them immense credit for getting this far, and hope they can manage to scrape along for a while yet.

      I do very much agree with S2K Chris though – they need to stop trying to be something they are not, and get back to doing what they do really, really well. A small roadster that is better than anything else to drive. Doesn’t need to be exotic, just a lot of fun and nice to look at. A big dearth of that sort of thing in the market at the moment.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Think of Lotus as more like other British outfits Mclaren or Cosworth.

    Mostly engineering projects for other companies, they don’t build it they design it and get it ready for production. Not just automotive stuff.

    The cars are just for image and mostly a sideline. Even in the 60’s they always sold more Lotus Cortinas than Elans.

    Proton is having their own problems, since they no longer have a protected market where they sell re-badged outdated Mitsubishis in their home country.

    They have run out of cash.

  • avatar
    amca

    Even if Lotus collapses (how many times recently?) again, it will be revived. They can always slim down to their engineering business – again – until some fool with a lot of money comes along and says: “let’s revive Lotus!” It’ll happen, promise.

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