Lotus Isn't Healthy In Its Home Market, Either

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
lotus isn t healthy in its home market either

Brits 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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  • ExPatBrit ExPatBrit on Sep 24, 2014

    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.

  • Amca Amca on Sep 24, 2014

    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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