R-class rival could be next from Hethel, possibly for Chinese manufacturer
30 December 2006

Lotus is set to unveil a seven-seat 4x4, based on the same platform as the next-generation Esprit and the new Excel GT, and previewed here (bottom left). A Lotus Engineering document recently seen by Autocar talks about “a front-engined, 4x4 crossover with seven seats” as one potential model to be built using Lotus’ new Versatile Vehicle Architecture (VVA). Any such car would be developed as part of Lotus’s consultancy business, possibly for a Chinese manufacturer. Hethel is investing heavily in VVA, which allows cars of differing mechanical layouts to be built on the same platform. These ambitious plans can be attributed to new Lotus boss Mike Kimberley, who is encouraging Lotus Engineering to be more innovative. Back in June Kimberley said he wanted annual production to reach 8000 units within five years using three model ranges: the Elise, the Esprit and the new mid-engined Excel. In the same time frame, he also wants a four-fold expansion in Lotus’s consultancy work. A mass-market 4x4 would make this objective achievable. In addition to the prospect of developing the new 4x4, Lotus has signed a five-year engineering agreement with Chinese car maker Jinhua Young Man to assist with the development of its passenger vehicles. Lotus is also actively seeking further international contracts both in China and India.

There may be further developments of the VVA chassis in-house, too. The new Esprit’s modular manufacture, which uses an aluminium central structure, would allow for the production of a roadster version with relative ease. Without a roof, the Esprit’s structure would have an impressive structural rigidity of 14,000Nm/degree. The mk1 Elise had a torsional stiffness of 9500Nm/deg.

Jon Quirk

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