Lotus Finally Talks Turkey on Upcoming Models - One of Which Could Suck
Lotus is an iconic automaker but, unfortunately, it hasn’t been a profitable one for years.* China’s Geely, which purchased a 51-percent stake in the brand last year, hopes to change that by investing “millions” into its production facilities. With the last factory revamp happening in 2009 to prepare for the Evora, that’s welcome news for Lotus. It also means new models are on the way.
Chief executive Jean-Marc Gales, a man who clearly enjoys his company’s cars, recently said that two new performance vehicles will arrive in 2020 — followed by an (apparently mandatory) sport utility vehicle. While we’re not enthralled by Lotus entering into the already bloated premium crossover segment, we’re hoping it’s willing to provide something different. Gales mentioned the model entering development a little over a year ago, saying “no one makes a lightweight, good-handling SUV. It’s a niche, and it looks well positioned.”
We would go even further by suggesting such a vehicle would be in the deepest recesses of said niche, as the very nature of an SUV automatically makes it heavier and sloppier on-road than a car. But people still buy them, especially from upscale manufacturers. A handsome and balanced crossover could be the money-making machine Lotus has been looking for. It certainly worked for Porsche.
Details on the vastly more interesting sports cars are slim. But Gales told Automotive News the models would arrive before the crossover in 2020 and that one would replace one of the models currently residing in Lotus’ stable. Odds are good it will be the Elise, if only because that model has gone unchanged for the longest period of time. It also might be a good idea for the brand to get a new-entry level model into more markets, as the NHTSA prohibited sales of the Elise in the U.S. after the 2011 model year.
One of the two new cars will use an updated version of Lotus’ bonded-aluminum platform (which the Elise/Exige also use), while the more expensive model will use a new carbon-fiber tub. Gales hinted that the latter example will position itself above the Evora and offer driving dynamics akin to the 3-Eleven. However, it won’t be quite so track-focused and will be street legal in all preliminary versions.
“It will be something similar but much more civilized because the 3-Eleven is pretty raw,” Gales said.
With a 3.5-liter aluminum V6 churning out 460 hp, the 1,962-pound car is literally a stripped-down racer. It even comes with a six-speed sequential gearbox. While Lotus does offer a heavier and less powerful road-going version with a traditional manual transmission and a handful of amenities, the passenger seat is still an optional extra. Despite being the slower incarnation of the 3-Eleven, the road version can still hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, with a top speed of about 180 mph.
Gales says the automaker will hire 300 people this year in Norfolk, England. Their intended purpose is to ensure the forthcoming models are the best the company has produced to date. He also said the company was cash-flow positive in 2017, with revenue up 24 percent to more than $142 million. He expects Lotus to become profitable in 2018.
That’s certainly a possibility, but next year could be a stretch. Despite witnessing a 13 percent sales increase against 2016, Lotus only sold 1,600 cars globally. It’s still progressing toward its goal of 3,000 annual deliveries. The big boost, according to Gales, will come once after the debut of new models. He’s anticipating SUV sales could boost yearly volume beyond 10,000 units, eventually.
The CEO hints the production of the crossover could take place in China and one other location. “I can imagine two places worldwide, and I would love one to be in the U.K., but there are many things we need to discuss,” Gales explained. “Brexit casts a shadow over everything.”
Meanwhile, both of the sports cars will be assembled in the United Kingdom by 2020 and should stick to Lotus’ existing formula. “We are very confident we can launch those sports cars in two years and beat the competition where we want to beat them,” Gales said. “We will never be No. 1 in luggage space, but we will be in handling.”
*Lotus finished the 2016-17 fiscal year with a positive EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) amounting to $2.6 million, which translates into a (much-reduced) $14.5 million pre-tax loss.
[Image: Lotus Cars]
A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.
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