It’s been 365 days since Lotus announced to the world’s press that there were 6 new cars in the pipeline, there was a new board of Directors and the company was making a transition from a niche sports car manufacturer to high end super car territory. Have they been successful so far? What’s been achieved, what’s to come?
Lotus CEO Dany Bahar tells us that the company are confident that they are on track with his ambitious 5 year plan, put into place 17 months ago. They have ticked all of the expected economic and technological boxes and reached all milestones which is important, as is the transparency that they operate under to the shareholders allowing them to closely track and monitor progress in Hethel. Of course, the upheaval at Lotus is not without it’s critics in the industry and the media but this only serves to galvanise the companies goals and make them more determined to succeed.
Bahar informed us that the main criticisms after the grand unveiling of the new cars in Paris last year was that the Elan was too similar to the Esprit in terms of looks and performance and that the Esprit needed something other than the proposed Toyota powertrain. This came as a surprise considering the relationship the 2 companies have had historically and the success of the Toyota engines in the Elise, Exige, 2-Eleven and Evora. Lotus will also use it’s team of 750 engineers on internal projects including the in-house V8 being developed for the Esprit, Elise and Eterne by Wolf Zimmermann and his team and this engine will also be available for motorsport applications and will see it’s way into the proposed LMP2 Le Mans car. This engine will first fire up on the 18th August and be in road going mules before the end of this year along with other components of the new range of cars. Bahar himself is very much personally involved in the improvements being made to the Evora, getting out in the car on the track and road every week with development engineers and insists that the improvements are all quality driven. He would like to see more character in the car, a more involving experience for the driver and having experience of driving the majority of the worlds supercars looks to elements of the very best to integrate into the car. A huge fan of the Evora, his own personal car was on site in red with black styling details including roof and sills, a great looking car. He and Wolf Zimmermann are hugely committed to the Evora and dedicate a lot of time and effort into it fulfilling it’s potential, the fruits of which are evident in the latest cars which feature a huge number of improvements over the early Evora and also in the development of aftersales performance enhancements.
More good news is that the company has recently finalist the acquisition of land adjacent to the current factory on which to construct the 8,500m2 museum and that the city car concept shown in Paris is to be built in partnership with Proton and named the Lotus Ethos. With an unconfirmed powertrain, either electric of hybrid drive, the car will expect to sell 1,200 to 1,800 units per year both badged as a Proton in the Asian market and Lotus in the UK and Europe manufactured both in Malaysia for the Proton and the UK for Lotus. The car is being developed jointly with Proton and is expected to be priced around £30,000 in the UK.
Proton MD Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohd Tahir, very relaxed in jeans and Lotus Originals leather jacket added that the Malaysian company is very committed to Lotus and that they are very happy with the day to day running of the company and the management team. He stressed that Proton back Lotus entirely with their current and future efforts and the strength of the relationship between the 2 companies.
The newest member of the Lotus Advisory Board is ex Rolls Royce and Maserati CEO, Karl Heinz Kalbfell who works closely with Dany Bahar. He believes that Lotus stands for something unique and that Chapman’s philosophy to always look forwards, never backwards is still the right way for Lotus. While it’s important for the company to respect and value its tradition but they need to be a future orientated company. Kalbfell is a new convertee to the Evora too, he’s very surprised exactly how good the car is and believes the handling and drive-ability of the car needs to be better publicised by the company, a task he hopes to take on himself and the car will be in the product lineup until 2017 when it is planned it will be replaced by the Elan.
Kalbfell knows the company has chosen a tough path but believes that Lotus are a worthwhile company for the time, effort and finance to be spent on. He acknowledges the proposition will not be without problems but being a small and dynamic company, things can be done when needed and changed when needed.
Lotus Chief Technical Officer Wolf Zimmermann explains that over 300 engineers from the dept are working on development projects including the new era cars, the new powertrains and improvements to the current Evora. Major steps are being made on the 2013 Esprit with all deadlines currently being met and a product which will line up with and exceed it’s competition. The new V8 engine is being engineered with emotion, an engine to fall in love with. At 170kgs and just 612mm long, the unit will be dry sump lubricated to save depth and will feature a 180o flat plate crank to make it sound like a V8 should and the engine is being utilised as a stressed component, a technique pioneered by Colin Chapman in F1, specifically with the 1967 Type 49. At 4.8l the engine will have a redline at 9k or above and produce 590PS. It can offer a path to the V6 for the Elan and it’s a relatively simple process to produce a 2.4l slant 4 for the Elise from what’s already been made with commonality in the pistons, connecting rods and other major components of the engine. Manufacturing of the engine will be on site at Hethel as will the Esprit be made in Norfolk and there will be optional hybrid power with battery suppliers already identified from the USA and technology from Germany.
The aim with the Esprit is to keep the weight to 1,460kgs, less than the Ferrari 458 at 1,485kgs and the same as the MacLaren MP4-12C. This is helped by a very lightweight BIW (Body In White) target of 230kgs on the standard car, some 34kgs lighter than the 458. On top of this, there will be an ‘R’ version of the Esprit which will be lighter and more powerful, the power coming from engine modifications including simple changes to the inlet trumpets amongst other things. A Superleggera version will take the ‘R’ and shave much more weight off the car, a truely super lightweight version of the Esprit and work on the convertible is already well under way, this is essential early on in the development.
Jonathan Legard was on hand to introduce the motorsport celebrities who had spent the early part of the day celebrating the opening of the new test track. Nigel Mansell is working very closely with Lotus on the development of the T125 and is very being back with Lotus. He is following the current LRGP team closely and expects great things, even a top spot on the podium for Vitaly Petrov sometime this year and having stood on that step 31 times himself is piling the pressure on the young Russian. Petrov himself has driven the T125 and is impressed with it’s power and braking. Bruno Senna was on hand and said that it was with Lotus that Ayrton made his name so it’s a real honour to be involved and to have driven on the new version of the track his uncle had developed cars on many years ago. Senna is itching to drive for LRGP but for now is working hard on his patience and just to do a good job for the F1 team.
Claudio Berro, Director of Motorsport is looking to expand the division and use GP2/GP3 to being up not only drivers but technicians into the higher echelons of racing. Berro also is going back to his roots which were in rallying and Lotus will soon field a GT rally car, details of which we hope to hear more of in Frankfurt in September. The Evora will also see it’s own Cup series next year which will be excellent to see. He was followed by Johnny Mowlem and James Rossiter fresh from Le Mans, Mowlem hugely enthusiastic about the effort put in by everyone to get the car over the line after 24 hours barely 10 weeks after it first turned a wheel on the track! Rossister, who has tested for F1 is involved heavily as a works driver for Lotus and has been driving the T125 on track this week and also in the Evora GT4 development. His impression of the T125 is that it’s very close to driving an F1 car, some accolade from the young racer.
Carry on with the motorsport information, Leo & Greg Mansell had been enjoying what can only be described as a drifting competition in the Lotus Driving Academy Evora fleet in the morning. Leo was hugely impressed with the cars mid corner and mid speed handling which is what wins races and Greg enjoyed the car straight out of the box on road tyres having a huge amount of fun, he couldn’t get enough! Jean Alesi has also been working extensively with Lotus on the T125 and has driven the car on 3 circuits to date. It’s a demanding car to drive with lots of power and downforce, 1.5 tonnes at 200kph, 60% of which is produced by the floor of the car. He will be involved with customers personally coaching them to drive the car and with the other driver focussed aspects of the Exos experience.
Lotus are spending £400m over the next 3.5 years on R&D and have £60m of infrastructure improvements to be made at Hethel. With the dealer network set to expand from it’s current 32 markets to 50 by 2014 sales are set to grow as demonstrated with solid sales in Japan and China selling 120 cars in the first 3 weeks of their operation, a solid move into a potentially huge marketplace and another tick in the box.