Prior Convictions: Solving Lotus

One point five BILLION pounds. What, exactly, would you do with it? Well, yes, I'd probably send a few postcards from my private island race track too, but what would you do with it if you were the boss of Lotus?

Because, apparently, that's the money that Geely - set to become majority shareholder of Lotus, as it is of Volvo and the London Taxi Company, while it's biggest single shareholder of Daimler - is prepared to drop on the Norfolk-based sports car company.

Sounds like a lot of money. Is a lot of money. Until you remember that Porsche's revenue is £25bn a year, it turns out 250,000 cars a year and employs 30,000 people. £1.5bn puts Lotus on the path. But is merely the start. So what do you do? Develop some cars, presumably. A new Elise, certainly. An SUV, inevitably. But beyond that?

Here, for better or worse, is my take, and if it's one that presumably shows why I am not the CEO of a car company, and you wish to tell me so, then in advance: none taken.

Anyway, job one: create a new architecture. A modular passenger cell, probably aluminium, perhaps part or all composite, with some strength shared down its middle and not just all at the sides. Yes, all at the sills is a superior engineering solution which allows cars to be stiffer and lighter, but also means occupants sit too close to each other and you can't get in and out easily if you're infirm or wearing a skirt. A four-cylinder engine can be mounted on a subframe behind the passenger cell transversely or, in the case of five or more cylinders, longitudinally.

I wonder whether it'd be worth trying to engineer this cell so that different front and rear subframes would allow a longitudinal engine mounted at the front, presto, giving you a new Elise (mid-engined, from £30,000) and a new Elan (front-engined, from £50,000) on the same platform. But there is probably a reason - scuttle height, impact structure - why nobody else has yet tried this.

I'd build these in the Midlands, where Lotus is mooting not just a new factory, but also design centre. "This is just like what we have done with the London Taxi Company: engineer in Britain, design in Britain and built in Britain. We see no reason to move fifty years of combined experience to China; let them do what they do best, in Britain," says Geely boss Li Shufu. Presumably it is easier to attract engineers to the Midlands, where there is already a vast swell of vehicle engineers, than to Norfolk, a place I love, but where there isn't.

Then there are the SUVs. Probably plural. Chinese built, Volvo-based. These cars, inevitably, will not be Lotuses in the truest sense. Each should be among the lightest cars in its class, but what matters more than slavishly making sure one's cars are as light and bare as is humanly possible, is that you make cars people want to buy. Porsche realised that when it made the Cayenne. Lamborghini realises it with the Urus. There are, according to one chief engineer I recently spoke to, some 400 million people in China who now count as 'middle class', which means they can afford to run a BMW 5-Series. A Lotus SUV gives them a reason not to.

So this is three (maybe four) lines already, which is two (three, perhaps four) too few. Remember the wild Danny Bahar plan? Lotus is in a place where this doesn't look ambitious enough. Aston Martin's second century plan - seven models, one replaced every year when the cycle starts again, is plausible. ("It isn't rocket science", says Aston boss Andy Palmer.)

So Elise (lightweight sports), Elan (lightish GT), medium-SUV and large SUV are supplemented by a new Esprit (mid-engined, aimed somewhere between the Porsche 911 and McLaren Sports Series), which is the model that also goes racing. And, finally, a super GT. Engine in the front, cell extended to include +2 or four seats if needs be, perhaps even a shooting brake/break/whatever rear end. Built by hand in Norfolk, forever Lotus's home, where it has decent (if some dated) facilities, excellent roads around it and a valuable test track, and is therefore a rather good place for vehicle development and motorsport.

What's that? Six. More if you squint a bit on body styles. Replace one every year, and grow, with the odd banzai special - 3-Eleven, 340R, you know the drill, also Norfolk made - thrown in for fun.

Engines? Tricky. Volvo presumably, for the smaller models, because some electrification is already in place. It'd come attached to Volvo's canbus and infotainment.

But an Esprit/other supercar would need multiple cylinders, wouldn't it? At the size Lotus wants to be ("a leading global luxury brand," says Li) I'm not sure how it convinces established manufacturers to sell it one. Perhaps - though engines are not exactly cheap to design - it needs its own V8. Or perhaps we'll accept that electrification and sound augmentation, like with the BMW i8, will circumvent the issue.

Either way, with Geely at the helm, if Lotus follows the path set by Volvo, expect to hear not a great deal in the short term, and then a model blitz in a few years' time.

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (178) Join the discussion on the forum

  • British Beef 13 Aug 2018

    Regarding the Engines option, Lotus has a great relationship with Toyota so surely they can access the Lexus range of V8s ?

    Lotus needs to retain its current customer base - Elise and Exige and Evora (Evora Targa or convertible), updated platforms without any more price escalation.

    Then work on new markets and new customers - that means SUV and sporty 4 door & 5 door. My favorite idea is the Lotus Carlton type makeover on all the cars in Volvo's range!

  • jpf 13 Aug 2018

    I was tempted to purchase a 4-6 year old Evora.

    When I was reading that clutches were failing in less than 30,000 miles and the cost would be $8,000, it was enough to scare me away.

    Clutches that are properly driven should last significantly longer.

    In essence, more durability and a more reasonable cost of ownership.

  • kambites 13 Aug 2018

    British Beef said:
    Lotus needs to retain its current customer base
    They they? It's so tiny as to be insignificant in the scheme of what Geely seems to have planned for the brand.

  • n4aat 13 Aug 2018

    The £30k Elise is a long gone pipe dream.

  • Gorbyrev 13 Aug 2018

    British Beef said:
    Regarding the Engines option, Lotus has a great relationship with Toyota so surely they can access the Lexus range of V8s ?
    Good point. The future for n/a powertrains in sports cars has to be a lighter chassis and bodywork. Lexus also have a particularly wonderful V10. Imagine what Lotus would do with the motor from an LFA. There's a halo car! Great news about the investment. As far as I can tell Geely have stewarded Volvo really well.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment