All systems are go! Lotus has announced that the M250 coupe - first shown in Frankfurt only a few months ago - will go into full production. Slotting in between the Elise and the Esprit, the car has a target production of 4,000 cars a year, a substantial number of cars for the growing Lotus facilities at Hethel in Norfolk.
Since its first showing at Frankfurt and its subsequent UK debut at the London Motor Show, dealers across Europe have taken over 1,000 orders for the car. Buyers will be chewing their nails for a while though - full production isn't planned until the early part of 2002. The car will cost approximately £40,000, pitching it directly against the TVR Tuscan, Jensen S-V8, Porsche Boxster and potentially against Jaguar's F-Type and the baby Aston Martin, depending how quickly Ford can finalise those projects. This niche is the fastest growing segment in the industry - the total annual production of vehicles world-wide grew from a mere 4,000 in 1993 to over a million in 1998.
Battle Lines are Drawn
How much of a battle will it be though? The engineering reputation of Lotus is second to none. There's little doubt that it will be a fine handling car. Initial reports of the 340R's handling are once again confirming how well deserved Lotus' reputation is in that department. If the weight can be kept to target levels, performance will certainly be on a par with its rivals. Then it's down to looks and character. TVR, Jensen and Jaguar have all produced good looking cars, with very differing characters, all unlike the M250.
We're awaiting Lotus' announcement on the technical details of the project, including their choice of engine. Battling against the 360bhp straight six of the TVR and the V8 in the Jensen, they'll certainly have to keep to their word regarding the target weight of less than 1,000kg if the 3.0 litre V6 is to provide comparable performance. The estimated 250bhp and lighter weight should allow the M250 to steal the Boxster's mantle of niche benchmark. Lotus are quoting 0-60mph in less than 5.0secs, 0-100mph in under 11.0secs.
Styling has changed little from that of the concept car, with the intention to use the very latest composites technology to achieve the desired weight of below 1,000kg. Lotus point out that not only will this contribute to the performance but it will also provide efficient fuel consumption - not an obvious consideration to many sports car purchasers!
Lotus will also be producing the Vauxhall VX220, which together with the M250 project gives an indication of the renewed success the Norfolk firm is enjoying. Over the past five years turnover has more than doubled and profit has increased by over 500% the last two financial years. Continued success will see Lotus leading the British sports car industry firmly back into the international limelight.