Have any car company's fortunes changed as much as Lotus has in the last five years? After Dany Bahar's acrimonious departure, the company entered a period of near-hibernation, with retuned and numerically enhanced versions of its increasingly elderly line-up, but an obvious inability to invest the serious cash needed to replace them. The PR department used to ask visiting photographers to choose vantage points that wouldn't include the skeletal, half-built factory that loomed over the test track.
But Geely's takeover in 2017 unleashed an unprecedented level of both investment and ambition for the brand. Planning for the replacement of the Elise, Exige and Evora - followed by comprehensive electrification - began under CEO Phil Popham. And now it is set to continue under the new boss, Matt Windle, who was promoted from head of engineering to managing director at the start of the year.
Despite the change of leadership, Popham's 'Vision 80' plan is still guiding strategy. Lotus has just announced the car formally known by its development codename of Type 131 will be the Emira, and beyond the teaser shots we'll be seeing the finished version as soon as July. But it's the further-out stuff that is going to really transform the company.
Windle began his career at Lotus as a CAD modeller, before leaving for an extended tour of other car makers, both large and small. The first of these was Tesla, where he worked on the Lotus-based Roadster alongside a youthful Elon Musk. "He is incredibly intelligent, I think he had about four brains on the go at the same time," Windle remembers, "he wasn't scared to make decisions and I think that's a really big thing. I've been in big companies where the decisions have to go right the way to the top, then come back down, and you don't recognise them by the time they come back."
After Tesla, Windle worked for both Nissan and Volvo, but it was his time with smaller sports car companies that gave his most valuable experience, both good and bad. He worked for Caterham at the time of the doomed joint venture with Renault, and on the stillborn C120 which would have shared the Alpine A110's underpinnings. Then later he was part of the small team at Zenos. "It was so close," he remembers, "another million quid and the company would still be here. But a million quid is a lot of money if you haven't got it."
Windle rejoined Lotus in 2017 and has been working flat-out ever since as the company has worked to create both the Evija EV hypercar and the Emira to market. The latter will be the last combustion-engined Lotus and although much will be familiar - bonded aluminium construction and the supercharged Toyota V6 carried over for the more potent versions - Windle promises it will also offer unprecedented usability for a Lotus sports car.
"I think Lotus in the past has maybe been a bit guilty of engineering something it thought people wanted and then putting it to the market," he says, "now we're trying to engineer something that people actually want."
As the teaser images make clear, the finished Emira will share much of its design language with the Evija. Only a coupe will be offered - a decision Windle admits was a difficult one, although he promises there will be roadsters in Lotus's future. But buyers will also be able to choose from a 2.0-litre turbocharged version with a dual-clutch gearbox (the V6 will stick with the choice of torque converter auto or six-speed manual.) Making around 300hp, this will enable the Emira to compete with the Porsche Cayman, Alpine A110 and four-cylinder versions of the Supra and F-Type - while the V6 continues to shadow the lower reaches of the 911 range. Contrary to earlier reports, there won't be a hybrid version.
"We've tried to cover as many bases as possible," Windle says, "two powerplants will enable us to cover most of the market. It's a Lotus that you can live with, we've given it broader appeal, but it's still a fantastic sports car with a range of different models that will go from a base spec up to an R."
The scale of the company's ambitions for the Emira are demonstrated by the size of the investment that has been made in what will be a substantially automated production line, one that will be able to make up to 5,000 cars a year while working a single shift. For contrast, the combined sales of Elise, Exige and Evora last year were under 1,400.
But it's beyond the Emira that things get radically different. Lotus is already developing a new pure EV platform that will underpin what Windle describes as its "lifestyle vehicles" - at least some of which are going to be on the crossover-SUV continuum. Dubbed Electric Performance Architecture - EPA - Windle is keen to stress that this is Lotus's own work.
"We could easily have taken Geely platforms and developed cars on them, but that wouldn't give you a true Lotus," he says, "we can do premium luxury, but we can also do intelligent technology that will make a car a Lotus. Yes, it will be heavier than a standard Lotus, but it will be the lightest car in its class."
The Lotus models that sit on the EPA platform will be built at a Geely Group plant in Wuhan - although engineering will always be led from the UK - and are set to sell in unprecedented volumes for the brand. The Chinese factory will have capacity to make up to 150,000 cars a year, and the country's growing appetite for home-produced premium EVs means that doesn't seem an outlandish target, especially when compared with demand from the rest of the world. For perspective, Lotus has sold just over 100,000 cars in its 73-year history to date.
Not that Lotus is set to give up on the entrepreneurial spirit that has led to numerous collaborations with numerous car makers in the past. Windle says the company is willing to discuss sharing this new EV platform with other manufacturers, in the same way it is planning to jointly develop a separate new EV sports car platform with Renault - the one that will underpin both Alpine and Lotus versions.
"I've seen joint ventures before and it's fair to say I've seen the problems," Windle says, with the Caterham C120 probably the most obvious example, "but if you come to them with a mindset of collaboration and working together you can make things go much further, and you can get a better investment for everyone concerned." Company insiders say that the Evija platform is likely to be used for at least one other model, too.
Will it work out? Windle acknowledges the risks of over-extension, but insists the bold new strategy is necessary to ensure the company's long-term survival.
"My job is all about turning this into a sustainable business and getting to where revenue can fund new products," he says, "I suppose my role really is to set us up for the next 70 years. In the previous 70 there have been some points where we've only just survived. It's that security, that sustainability, which is really important."
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