Tuesday December 30th was the second Press Day of the 2004 Los Angeles Auto Show and by 9:30 the tension in the Lotus Booth was palpable. You could sense the sheer energy of anticipation from the staff manning the presentation.
Arnie Johnson, thirty years with Lotus in the United States, now President and CEO of Lotus Cars USA, took questions from the Senior Editors of large American car Magazines.
Tony Shute, eighteen years with Lotus, two as Head of Product Development and Manager of the first Elise Project stood hands clasped tightly as he reviewed every detail on each car.
Also there was Nick Adams. Another Lotus veteran with eighteen years experience, Nick is Vehicle Development Manager - the man who ordered that durability tests be run, and run again, and run again, because failure was unacceptable. He's a man with huge enthusiasm and strong opinions on what was needed for the Elise world car. He was given the opportunity to examine each and every component: "How heavy is it?" "How much does it cost?" "How do I get rid of it?” Nick was ready, willing, eager to dive into highly specific technical questions with the press on how this part or that worked.
Also on hand was Steven Crijns, Designer of the Series Two Elise - the man who, working with Russell Carr, took the results of the wind tunnel testing and reshaped the car.
UK PR Manager Alastair Florance was one of the team from the UK. The Lotus PR Manager is a quiet self-effacing man but was very willing and able to field all questions put to him about the project.
On the technical side, Dave Simkin, a Field Service Engineer was there. He'll have the job of making sure that dealers are up to speed with the car and are providing the necessary back up to the lucky owners.
Coordinating the after sales side of the launch is Clyde Shepard. Based in Georgia it will be his job to ensure that spares are available to dealers and owners.
The roll call of attendees was completed by the godfather of the Federal Elise Project - Roger Becker, Senior Consultant – Vehicle Engineering, with Lotus since 1966. He brought in and pounded himself doing international consultancy work that meant cold hard cash was available to fund projects like the Federal Elise.
By the time Mark O’Shaunessy, Director of Public Relations for Lotus Cars USA began to make the official launch several hundred of the press were bunched more than four deep and were unusually hushed. Performance through adding lightness, the Lotus Mantra was clearly expressed. And in spite of the perfect storm caused by the radical drop in the value of the dollar, the car will be priced, well equipped, at $39,985.
You could hear the rapt audience whispering “wow,” “hot car, this thing is going to sell.” There was a very strong sense to the crowd of the American phenomenon of cheering for the underdog, particularly when they have hit a home run.
The years of waiting were over. No one had to state it, there was no more need for promises that might or might not be kept. The Elise was now on US soil. The press was almost ready to anoint it the next revolution in the American Sports Car Market as it did with the arrival of the Elan in early 1960s. The bets were being hedged. In the last few years Lotus has worked diligently to produce cars that perform incredibly, delightfully and don’t break. Never before have they brought to the US a vehicle so thoroughly tested, and tested again, and tested again, to ensure that nothing goes wrong. But this is still an almost handmade car, and not everything will go right, for every owner, every time.
Except for Lotus no one has ever come to the market before with a simple light weight machine that could meet and exceed current supercar performance standards at a price that would appeal to a the average middle-to-upper end sports car buyer. The very fact that Lotus has met their goal is an enormous achievement. That anyone who drives the car walks away with an ear to ear grin that can last the entire day is what will truly sell this handsome little car. Congratulations Lotus, job well done.
Reporting by Jon Rosner. Pictures courtesy Jon & Alan Perry