Gales reckons Lotus could eventually be building close to 10,000 cars per year
Lotus will first concentrate on refining its existing model range before launching new models
New Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales has experience of leading big companies
Lotus is officially in recovery. The Norfolk-based sports car maker, beleaguered and unprofitable for at least five years, is well advanced with a ‘logic-based’ revival plan that is already boosting car sales and dealer numbers.
The strategy will soon yield an exciting series of design and mechanical changes designed to boost the performance, practicality and desirability of every Hethel-built model.
The plan is the brainchild of Lotus’s new chief executive, Jean-Marc Gales, and contrasts heavily with the flamboyant, multi-launch ambitions of previous chief Dany Bahar, whose plans brought Lotus close to disaster. Gales, a Lotus enthusiast since childhood and a former chief of Peugeot-Citroën, is depending on his big-company experience to move Colin Chapman’s unique business on to new, more secure foundations.
Lotus was last in the news with an announcement of 300 redundancies from a workforce of 1200, but Gales believes that following this “very regrettable” event, the company is now correctly configured for recovery.
“When I arrived six months ago we had 1200 people making 1200 cars a year,” says Gales. “We could not have survived like that. Now we are 900 people, and this year we will make around 2000 cars. Next year the figure should be 3000 cars, then 3000 for several more years. This will change the equation completely.”
Ultimately, Gales believes Lotus is capable of volumes close to 10,000 cars a year if it takes lessons from other specialist car makers, notably Porsche, and moves to building four-door models – still at Hethel – for a completely new sector. He won’t yet discuss specifics (“let’s make a success of our first stage”), but Lotus could, for example, use a Proton body to produce an own-design SUV predominantly for sale in south-east Asia, where demand is greatest.
Gales worked in Volkswagen’s top management when legendary group chief Ferdinand Piech realised that for a relatively low investment Porsche could produce a performance SUV – the Cayenne – from the major components of the VW Touareg.
At present, such things are dreams, and Gales insists any exciting future at Lotus depends on improving the existing cars and business. The company has just announced a six-speed automatic version of its Exige S that is certain to be popular in Asia and has a revised version of the Elise called S-Cup waiting in the wings. In order to sell these new cars, the dealer count will have swollen from 145 to 205 by the end of next year.
“We won’t have the funds to build all-new cars in the next few years,” says Gales. “In any case our existing platforms have plenty of potential.”
At the Geneva motor show next March, Lotus will have a heavily revised version of the Evora featuring changes inside and out, about 15 per cent more power and less weight.
Gales, who regularly spends late evenings driving Lotus products with considerable verve on the “fantastic” roads around Norwich, reckons the 2015 Evora will beat competitive Porsches for performance – and that’s before he launches a lightweight Cup range, shorn of more weight and perhaps with a further small power upgrade.
Extra power and less weight are also on the agenda for the Exige in 2016, and so is a “surprise”, a model designed to continue what the super-lightweight 2-Eleven track day special began.
Further projects could include a lightweight, high-riding crossover sports car based on an existing model (this one probably dependent on the reactions from Lotus customers in focus groups), but Gales has little time for the Esprit supercar proposals previous company bosses have deemed important. A more powerful Evora will be quicker and more agile than any old-style normally aspirated supercar, he believes.
Gales’s twin themes of simplification and lightness shine out of everything he proposes. They have always been at the core of the Lotus philosophy, he says, yet the ideas are still very modern. “Every car company today wants to reduce weight,” he says, “but we have always done it, so we know how.”
To aid this drive towards efficiency, Gales has set up a so-called Lightweight Lab, a large room in which all the components of a disassembled Elise, Exige and Evora are laid out on trestles.
The weight and cost of every piece are labelled, and in recent days no fewer than 800 staff have toured the room, suggesting an amazing 1140 ideas for reducing those figures. It’s not yet clear how much weight can be saved per car, but 50kg seems well within reach, while cost reductions are believed to be running at about 10 per cent per car.
For all the progress, Gales believes his work has hardly started. He wants to play the long game, to get the company to a point where it can make all-new models. “This brand is like a sleeping princess,” he says, “but I believe she is starting to wake up.”
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