Lotus Rules Apply

Authorities have expressed concern as reports of unicorn sightings are once again rife in Norfolk.

2017 Lotus Elise Sprint 220 (c) Car

When former Lotus CEO, Dany Bahar packed his trunk and said goodbye to the Norfolk broads, the outpouring of relief was not only palpable, but most likely mutual. After all, for the former Ferrari sales and marketing supremo, the unglamorous environs of Hethel were unlikely to have been to his taste and for Lotus themselves, because his ludicrously unrealistic visions and spendthrift policies had to all intents and purposes bled the business dry.

In his stead, former PSA chief, Jean-Marc Gales became the putative safe pair of hands, successfully stabilising the business, arresting an alarming talent-drain and restoring a missing sense of purpose and fiscal rectitude. However, following last year’s partial acquisition of Group Lotus by Geeley Auto, Gales departed, replaced at Group Lotus by the Chinese car giant’s group head of engineering, Feng Qingfeng and directly at Lotus Cars by former JLR and Sunseeker Yacht executive, Phil Popham.

Following Geeley’s controlling stake in the business, many speculators and commentators converged around the notion that the Chinese motor group, who have so successfully stewarded Volvo’s post-Ford resurgence, and currently control Polestar, Lynk & Co, taxi builder, LEVC, Proton Cars and aero-car maker, Terrafugia would set Lotus on a similarly upward trajectory. Even those of a more cynical bent suggested that this would likely be the best (and possibly final) opportunity the historic specialist carmaker would be offered to realise the potential it hitherto had been denied.

Jean-Marc Gales pictured with the current Evora 400. (c) automotiveworld

With a reputed £1.5 billion of fresh investment from its new Chinese parent, the mainstream press reported that Geeley’s plans would include an expansion at Lotus’ Hethel headquarters, a new design and engineering centre in Warwickshire, not to mention the prospect of a further manufacturing plant in the Midlands to cater to the increased production volumes Lotus’ expansion would likely entail.

In a recent piece, Autocar breathlessly reported upon news that management have sanctioned a £2 million electric hypercar, aimed at the very top-end of the exclusive car market. According to staff writer, Mark Tisshaw, the limited-run two-seater projectile will be the quickest, most exclusive, and most ambitious model Lotus have made in their 70-year history. According to the author, ‘project Omega’ is ‘shrouded in secrecy’, which as a statement requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

He goes on to state that Geeley plans to make Lotus ‘a force to be reckoned with’, adding that as a result of their new Chinese patron’s largesse, the historic carmaker currently has ‘the World at its feet’. It is of course for such forensic investigatory journalism that we truly cherish this storied, 123-year old UK automotive weekly and its online equivalent.

The electric hypercar is not the only programme believed to be in hand at Hethel. Lotus is also said to be planning not one, but two crossover CUV vehicles, to be built using shared Volvo/Lynk & Co platforms and powertrains, and according to the Autocar report, to be built, not as previously reported in the UK, but at Volvo plants in either Sweden or the US. In addition, a replacement to the long-running Evora model is believed to be in hand, although there is no mention of a planned replacement for Lotus’ strongest seller, the entry-level Elise.

Following Jean-Marc Gales 2014 appointment in the wake of The Great Bahar’s precipitous fall, Lotus sales rebounded somewhat, at least within the confines of the miniscule volumes in which they are made. But it appears as though the Gales’ plan of leveraging the existing range through product extensions and special-run editions has reached the limits of expediency. European sales across the board for 2018 (year to October figures)* amount to 523 cars, while no figures are available for Lotus in the US market since 2015, suggesting few (if any) have been sold since that date.

Clearly the current situation lies some way short of adequacy or viability and that in order to arrest Lotus’ further descent into irrelevancy their new owners have concluded the future for the marque lies further upmarket. However doubts have been expressed as to whether Geeley understands the historic carmaker sufficiently in order to steward it towards a sustainable future without damaging its essence.

Unicorn ahoy! (c) Autocar

Because what is abundantly clear is that the very last thing Lotus requires is a £2 million hypercar, not only because it exists so far outside the carmaker’s most ardent ambition and historical remit, but also because the world is already awash with similar tawdry conveyances aimed at what are loosely termed ‘high net worth individuals’. What could Lotus realistically bring to market that could possibly swing a purchase over a Bugatti or top-end McLaren, should that be one’s ardent desire?

But let us for a moment put aside the notion that Autocar could simply be adding two plus two and making ten, a not entirely improbable calculation from the habitually hyperbolic Haymarket weekly. Because even if they are even loosely correct in their assumptions, one cannot help feeling that the whole thing has doom written all over it.

Last year, Geeley CEO, Li Shufu pledged that his business was “fully committed to restoring Lotus into being a leading global luxury brand.” A statement which far from sounding emollient, ought to elicit dread in anyone who wishes the legendary carmaker well. Because not only does it reek of vainglory, it comes with the broadest whiff of Unicorn, the unmistakable and wincingly expensive aroma of eau de Bahar.

The rules of Lotus have always been simple enough. Mess with them at your peril.

*Sales figures: Carsalesbase

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

14 thoughts on “Lotus Rules Apply”

  1. There are far more important markets than the undeveloping USA, namely China and Japan as evinced by this article https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/engineering/11519371/Lotus-sales-accelerate-as-struggling-sports-car-group-gains-traction.html
    Of course there is the possibility that Geeley will just use the brand to apply to badge engineered Volvos and how about a Taxi Lotus Edition – it would have fake carbon fibre inserts on the dashboard to evoke lightness and quilted leather on the driver’s seat to prove it was the elite model.

  2. “restoring Lotus into being a leading global luxury brand”

    There’s clearly a fundamental misunderstanding at the root of Geely’s plan. Was Lotus ever perceived as a luxury brand?

  3. Well, Geely are generally thought to have been pretty good stewards of Volvo so far, and – against all expectations and, possibly, sense – have delivered a new London taxi.

    The ‘£2m hypercar’ already makes sense because it has generated PR. Autocar reports that Geely will be looking closely at the Porsche business model for inspiration, and that is surely right – sports cars and supercars for the brand, SUVs for the bottom line.

    I am not at all convinced that a Volvo SUV makes a credible basis for a Lotus (and there is a potential clash with Polestar, Volvo’s emerging ‘luxury’ sub brand), but am reminded that Lotus has a long history of working on more mainstream cars, right back to the Lotus Cortina. So it is far from impossible that they could develop a thoroughly re-engineered XC40 that attracts customers.

    It’s the sports cars that I am interested in. I think it is fair to say that the Evora was ill-conceived from the start, and the development of a new Elise / Exige has gone very quiet.

    1. I like the Evora too – indeed looking at it today, it seems to have been a bit of a trend-setter in terms of layout and styling themes.

    2. I also like the Evora, but it has not been a success. At launch it was met with a confused reception and all the usual quality issues. In hindsight, trying to take on the 911 as an ‘everyday’ sports car was pure folly.

      Lotus should have abandoned any thought of introducing a +2 model, and instead launched the Evora as a lower and purer two seater… oh, and called it ‘Esprit’ instead.

      Jean-Marc Gales proved himself to be a canny custodian, but just look what he did to the Evora – he turned into a faster, more track-orientated model (just as he did with the Elise and Exige).

      Nowadays, the Evora is mostly sold with two seats only, big performance, and a six figure price tag. Had Lotus started from here, things might have turned out a lot better.

    3. That makes you more of a Lotus psephologist than I am. I liked the use of the Toyota engine. The interior styling is inspired. I just had another look. Goodness me. (The 400 interior is not so nice). And the exterior is crisp and fresh and bold. Well done, Russel Carr. It has a 3.5 litre V6 and weighs half nothing. Wow. While not a sports car person, I can respect that. The public don´t know what is good for them. The equivalent Porsches are excellent too, I can´t argue with them. The Lotus tickles my fancy more. And you can get it in orange.
      It´d be either that or Copen for me if I had to have a 2-door, 2-seater. Or a 914.

  4. Lotus and a £2M supercar?
    Next things you’ll be telling me are that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, the moon is made of cheese and Rolls Royce are doing an off roader.

  5. I had read somewhere – I think it was an interview in Evo with Galles just as he was exiting the building – that Lotus has dropped the idea of replacing the Elise on the basis that the volumes are too low and the margins too fine at the price point. Given the rate of price hike over recent years, that’s quite a statement, as well as being a blow. I recall his words were to the effect that ‘if the likes of VW can’t see the business case for such a car, what chance Lotus?’. It brought to mind comments that Jon Moulton made when Alchemy made noises about ‘saving’ MG before the wretched ‘Phoenix 4’ stepped-in, which was to a similar effect (and that was a very long time ago now).

    This would be a real shame as an Elise remains one of those (stupid – as my wife calls them) cars which I still have fantasies about owning one day. The current car has been honed very nicely over the years and so even has a very nice gear-change, which was not always the case. It would just be a basic one, I can’t stand what they have done with some of the limited run beasts, as I have always thought that, just as is the case with the 911, the basic, RWD Carerra is all you need (which will be less the case now given that all models come with the wide body as standard.

    1. This would be a great shame if Lotus discontinue the Elise. It has proved to be an absolute star for them.

  6. The notion that the Lotus brand shall be used as a badge-spice (in the way it was used on the Carlton/Omega beast), is very unlikely to me, if one digs deeper in the somewhat hellbent tone of Geely CEO’s statement about the brand’s target.

    If they want to make out of it what Bugatti is to VAG, then I’d be very sceptical about badge-makeup use on Volvos and their other brands.

    However, let’s not forget that Lotus was once used as badge-spice also on the supremely unmainstream Isuzu Piazza HBL. Also, the Lotus brand’s USP has something extremely different, a hard to describe ‘something’ that’s embedded into it, making it far more wide-spectred as essential coverage then we (and some commenters above) probably imagine.

    On the other hand, Herriot is probably right that the original Lotus philosophy was based so much on purity that it could be very risky to ‘mess with it’. Still, the cultural change we’re going through (or the ‘demise of culture’, as some prefer to define it) brings a noticable change to the overall perception of all things/brands automotive. The 9-second attention span generation seems to create a wholly new set of values that penetrate the predominant awareness sphere, and there very few things are truly sacred.
    It’s a realm where nuances have increasingly small chances of any survival.

    I would, therefore, expect that the exercise of creating a hypercar under the L-brand could quite possibly succeed if done right. It is just that there will be many marque aficionados who’ll be intensely horrified at the slightest thought of it happening. It probably won’t succeed, though, if they fail to technically base the end-product on at least one of the Lotus (Chapman’s) core, fundamental values – which is (to make things more complicated), essentially, a singular : v a l u e .

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