Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales has promised to keep sports car production in Norfolk as he begins to develop a new generation of models, due from 2021, as part of a plan drawn up under the brand’s new owner Geely.
Geely bought Lotus at the end of last month, with the sports-car firm joining the Chinese manufacturer’s fast-growing – and so far hugely successful – portfolio of diverse automotive brands, the flagship of which is a revitalised Volvo.
Gales, who has been confirmed as Lotus’s CEO, is now working on future plans to present to the Geely board. The new line-up is set to include an SUV, for which Gales believes Lotus can find a new niche. “We will always have sports cars, but we’re looking at other segments,” he said. “The SUV market changes as well – it’s not just cars that are six feet high and wide now, it’s a huge market that’s becoming more segmented. There is a niche within that for a Lotus crossover that is light and aerodynamic and handles like nothing else.
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“We’re working on it. The new board needs to pass it, but the future is very bright.”
While Gales said Lotus would remain making sports cars at its base in Norfolk, the other cars could be developed or made elsewhere. “We stay in the UK for sports cars, what we do for other cars needs defining,” he said. Gales has previously spoken of his desire to launch next-generation Elise, Exige and Evora models on a common architecture for global sale from 2021, as well as plans for an SUV.
“We are still looking at the next generation,” Gales said. “There is an open book, which is good. We have a world-class automotive manufacturer behind us. I see it as a new chapter. One has closed and we can start afresh. It’s good news for us, good news for the region. There’s loads to do and I’m here to stay.”
Lotus sold around 1500 cars last year, and Gales expects growth at the brand in terms of both volume and staff. Pointing to Porsche’s 240,000 annual sales, he said there was room between Lotus and Porsche into which the brand could grow.
“We want to make profits and grow but grow in a sustainable way. We need to define this and go to the board. There is room left in the market.”
Q&A WITH LOTUS CEO JEAN-MARC GALES:
What will Lotus’s role be in the Geely group? “We’re Lotus and we’re about handling, lightweight and aero, where nothing can beat us. Lotus is like nothing else in the world. Our cars don’t have the most power, but it’s the feeling, the way it drives and handles.”
What can Geely bring to Lotus? “Our last owners were very good and saw us through 20 years. Now we have clear targets and are owned by an automotive specialist. I don’t think anything better could have happened to us.”
Will you increase engineering activities? “I’m sure we will get huge support in engineering. We’re going to increase the engineering team here, we’ll be hiring more people, and fast. The amount of work over the next three years will be massive. We’ve shown what we can do on limited budgets – imagine what we can do with a shareholder that wants to invest in an iconic brand.”
Will you source parts from within the Geely group? “We’ll be part of a big family, so why wouldn’t we? There are bound to be synergies; we need to keep the identity of the brand. Using parts of other brands, the option is there, but we need to keep our identity. Lotus’s identity is light weight, aerodynamics and handling.”
Can you fulfil that identity with an SUV? “Absolutely. I’m sure many other growing segments can fit the Lotus criteria.”
Are you making a profit? “Yes, and we can accelerate that. The average revenue per car is going up, so we’ll sell the same 1500 cars this year as last, but each car is selling for more money. It allows for better profits, as customers want a more exclusive car.”