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Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales: PH Meets (again)

Crossovers and front-drive Proton derived products not ruled out - Lotus's new boss explains his masterplan

By Mike Duff / Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What a difference four years has made. Back at the 2010 Paris motorshow Lotus seemed to be on a mission to out-spend all of its rivals, with a vast stand and no fewer than five concept cars promising a new era for the British sports car maker under recently-arrived CEO


Gales; would you want to be in his shoes?

Gales; would you want to be in his shoes?

In 2014, Lotus didn't even have a stand at Paris, Bahar and his ambitious model plans have long since

and another recently-arrived CEO,

, has announced radical restructuring plans for the company, with over a quarter of the workforce under threat of redundancy.

Fortunately, Gales himself was at Paris, and we grabbed the opportunity to follow up on our chat of a few weeks ago and talk face-to-face about his plans for saving and relaunching the brand.

There's no doubt there's a huge amount of affection for the brand. The question is whether you can spin the existing Elise and Evora platforms into a viable business that produces a substantial number of cars?
"I'm very confident we can do just that. First of all we're going to use those platforms that we have - there's no reason why we should not and many, many reasons why we should spin-off many different products, and enhance existing products.

Expect even more spin-offs of existing platforms

Expect even more spin-offs of existing platforms

"And secondly there are many ideas in three to four years time that would enable us to go in completely different categories of product, which we're currently investigating. It's not a fancy business case where we say we're going to develop something from scratch, first of all we need to turn around the company - otherwise we wouldn't be doing the steps we announced three weeks ago. It's a very sad thing that we had to announce we would put at the threat of redundancy 27 per cent of our workforce.

"But if you put it in simple words we need to reduce costs and sell more cars. We have been at 1,200 cars last year. We are confident, I'm personally very confident, we can go to 3,000 cars. Also confident that we can stay in Norwich - that's a done deal. Norwich and Norfolk belong to the brand, as much as the Eiffel tower belongs to Paris."

So at 3,000 cars Lotus would be profitable and sustainable?
"3,000 is the target, without giving any indications on anything else. I would like to give you that information, but I cannot disclose it right now."

How much can you change the existing platform?
"There is a tub and there is a subframe where you have the engine, so you can do virtually everything. You're going to see in the next four to six months that we've worked on many things to broaden the appeal of the platform, and to make more variants available to market."

Significant updates for Evora on urgent to-do list

Significant updates for Evora on urgent to-do list

Like bigger doors?

"Or narrower sills, without changing the doors."

So we're going to be seeing a substantially revised Evora, not just an updated car that meets US crash tests?
"That's absolutely correct. We are staying with the existing Evora but making it better. We make it better first of all by making it faster, second there were some practical things that were on the list of improvements like making it easier to get in and out of the car. Thirdly we also have an interior that looks different than the current interior. The car will be changed in most parts."

And when will you start developing all-new models?
"I'm of the firm conviction and I am very confident that the cars we will launch on the existing platform, the improved platform, within the next three years will be cars the market will like... The whole concept of our cars is extremely modern. The Alfa 4C that's just been launched has a carbon tub that is barely 3kg lighter than our 17-year old Elise tub."

Lotus belongs at Hethel says the new boss

Lotus belongs at Hethel says the new boss

And beyond that?

"If we look long term, four to six years in the future, then our partner is Proton. Proton is a volume manufacturer and has parts modules we could use for future models... You've heard that we are already investigating other types of vehicle like saloons and crossovers, and that's a distinct possibility. I wouldn't exclude anything now at the moment. I would only exclude anything that doesn't fit the Lotus brand."

Proton only has front-wheel drive models, so presumably any front-engined car using Proton parts would be front-wheel drive?
"I can tell you if we were to do a front engined sport scar it would be a real Lotus. Which means that for ride and handling it could be benchmark."

But, to press you, could it have front-wheel drive?
"It will have Lotus DNA, whatever it is, and be true to it."

Dany Bahar claimed Lotus would struggle to stay alive making cars costing less than $70,000 - one part of his strategy lots of analysts agreed with. Do you share that view?
"Two thirds of our sales are now over $70,000 - one third Evora and one third Exige, so there you are."

A new generation of front-driven Lotuses?

A new generation of front-driven Lotuses?

But can you keep producing cars under that price point - are cheaper models loss leaders?

"Certainly not. We don't lose on any of our cars, that's not a philosophy I subscribe to. If you sell a car you need to make some money out of it. However there is a demand especially in Japan for the Elise 1.6 and we will satisfy that demand, there's no need to drop that one. But we're certainly going to have in the future more high-powered versions in the range, because that's the general trend as well."

Can you keep up with competitors like the Porsche 911 Turbo and McLaren P13 - do they put a ceiling on what you can charge for the existing platform?
"People are asking me all the time whether the Evora, which has been here since 2009, is an old concept... Forgive me for citing a competitor, but the Porsche 911 has been the same basic concept for 50 years. It's been developed, redeveloped, enhanced - that's what we're going to do with our platform. Most successful sports cars in history are evolutions of what's gone before. For the Evora and Exige, there will be an evolutionary step. I don't say we're not going to develop a totally new sports car in the next 10 years because I don't want to look that far into the future, but with constant evolution of the current cars we will satisfy the demand of our customers and our potential new customers."


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