Lotus is already far into the development of one of the most important models in its history: an SUV tasked with generating sales volumes the British marque has never seen before. It’s the key component in Chinese parent company Geely’s commitment to “restoring Lotus into being a leading global luxury brand”.
Autocar has learned that the high-riding model, internally codenamed the Lambda, will adopt fully electric power from launch in 2022, rather than hybrid propulsion, as was originally believed. Production will also centre on China, where demand for premium electric vehicles remains strong.
Conceived under former Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales, the SUV project first surfaced in 2016. At that time, it was understood the intention was to initially launch the model with a high-performance petrol-electric powertrain like those used by Geely sibling brands Polestar and Volvo.
However, the EV market was significantly less mature than it is now – particularly in countries such as China, where more than 1.2 million electric cars were sold last year – and incentives to encourage people into EVs remain common. It’s understood Geely therefore reversed the decision to make a combustion-engined version of the Lotus SUV to arrive ahead of the all-electric one.
Lotus wants the new model to lead the brand’s volume growth, particularly in places such as China and the US. The initial goal is to more than triple sales in the next few years, taking Lotus from 1500 to around 5000 units annually, and beyond that in future.
The first big step of this volume growth plan is the ‘new Esprit’, a V6-engined hybrid sports car that’s due next year.
With Lotus’s base in Hethel, Norfolk, undergoing major renovation, the SUV could in theory initially be built there, because its capacity is for up to 10,000 cars per year. However, it will be reserved as the brand’s sports car base.
Instead, Geely will seek to make use of the greater economies of scale and lower costs of a recently finished £1 billion factory in Wuhan, China, with an annual capacity of 150,000. Much of that is for home-market Geely products, but a special section will be set up for building the Lotus SUV.
It’s possible other Geely factories around the world could also produce the SUV, depending on demand.
At the core of the SUV is an adapted version of Geely’s recently announced Sustainable Experience Architecture. Lotus is able to cherry-pick the best of the group’s components, while all engineering decisions still go through Hethel.
Lotus is understood to have worked extensively on material usage for its SUV to ensure that, even with a heavy battery, lightness remains at its core. In 2017, Geely design boss Peter Horbury admitted that the SUV is “never going to be as light as an Evora. But I’m sure if you’re calling it a Lotus, it has to be the lightest it can be of that genre.”