Lotus is going through quite the transformation. From a small, British sports car maker whose products appealed to the kind of driving fanatic who would shun Porsche for being too civilized, to makers of an entire family of electric vehicles, including hypercars, SUVs and everything in-between.
This transformation is possible thanks to an injection of cash from Geely, the Chinese automotive giant that also has ownership of Volvo, Polestar and the London Electric Vehicle Company.
Having recently announced the axing of its entire product range, seeing the curtain fall on Elise, Exige and Evora production, Lotus is now working on bringing its 2,000-horsepower, all-electric Evija to market. This 130-off, multi-million-dollar hypercar will be followed by the company’s last-ever car powered by internal combustion, the wonderfully pretty Emira, and after that Lotus will be an all-electric company.
That future will see a broad range of vehicles carrying the company’s yellow badge. Not just sports- and supercars, but sedans and SUVs too.
Thanks to £100m of investment in the UK alone, bringing about two new factories – plus plans for production of vehicles in China – Lotus is the healthiest it has ever been. But, while the current plan was formed in 2017 and acted upon a year later, it is still early days and the company has much yet to prove. Plainly, managing director Matt Windle has a lot on his plate.
Speaking to me at this summer’s Hampton Court Concours of Elegance, Windle said: “We’re still a small company as far as OEM size is concerned. We’ve invested in areas that have had the biggest impact on the brand because we’ve had to build the brand back up. When we started [the rebuilding] in 2018 we did a study. A lot of people would say ‘Lotus, oh they used to do sports cars. Are they still going?’.”
Windle is confident that, despite the enormous growth Lotus is planning for itself, the brand can handle such a transformation. “We want to do a Lotus for people at every stage of their life. We think the brand can take it and we think we can do something special with those cars as well. They will be a Lotus. They will be premium.”
The vehicles Windle is referring to are the so-called ‘lifestyle cars’ to be built in China, as opposed to the sportier ones constructed at Lotus’s home in Norfolk, England. The Chinese-built electric SUVs are currently known by their code names of Type 132, 133 and 134. Of the former, Windle says: “Type 132 prototypes are already running around; it is well progressed and it’s really exciting…we’ve got the opportunity to grow.”
With these lifestyle cars, Lotus is aiming for a premium ownership experience. “When you drive it it’s still going to feel like a Lotus,” Windle says of the Type 132. “But it’s premium. It’s in a corner of the market where you’re going to be proud to own that car.”
Feel and driving dynamics have always been at the heart of what Lotus sports cars stand for. It will be fascinating to see how this ethos survives when the company uses electric motors and batteries that are almost identical to those of other vehicles. Indeed, Mate Rimac previously told me how making one electric car feel different from another is “the billion-dollar question” when it comes to making electric sports cars for driving enthusiasts.
Windle seems confident that Lotus can make its electric cars stand out. “We’ll concentrate on the dynamics. Our sports cars will be designed around the drivers. It won’t be a bland environment, it’ll be an engaging environment. I used to work at Tesla and I drove the original Roadster a lot, and I can tell you that electric sports cars are good fun to drive as well.”
Windle added: “People talk about the engines, sounds and things like that. But [an electric drivetrain] brings a whole new sensation to you and people will get used to it. It’s the way it’s going to go. It’s the way legislation is going to go…There is a lot of opportunity with these cars.”
I ask if the gas-powered Emira will have a long shelf life, and whether it will become a hybrid to remain in production after UK legislation outlaws the sale of non-electrified vehicles in 2030. Windle is coy, saying: “Let’s just say, the Emira is not going to be going away in three years’ time. [But] we’re not doing hybrids.”
Lastly, I ask Windle for a message of reassurance for fans who might be concerned about the prospect of the brand becoming an electric SUV firm. “I understand. I understand the concerns and how people feel. But we’ve got to innovate…one of my main jobs is to make Lotus sustainable, so we’ve got to invest in products, develop and increase volumes as well. And the core thing is, our strapline ‘for the drivers’ is not just a strapline, it is how we work, how we focus. The cars will always be engaging and always feel like a Lotus. We’ve got some exciting things coming up and the future’s bright.”
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