Lotus's first SUV, as imagined by Autocar
Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales believes there is a gap in the market for a “lightweight, good-handling SUV” as he plots the revitalised sports car maker’s future model plans.
Gales has confirmed that the first Lotus to appear in a next-generation line-up will be a replacement for the Elise in 2020, followed soon after by its more hardcore Exige sibling. A new Evora will complete the new range of sports cars by 2022.
By this point, Lotus’s SUV may well be ready for production as a fourth model line, with the Norfolk-based company joining the likes of Porsche, Jaguar, Maserati, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and Bentley in recognising the benefits an SUV can have in boosting profitability.
Gales told Autocar recently that work on a prototype SUV model had started. The car has not yet been signed off for production, nor a design finalised, but if the company makes a success of its turnaround plans, the SUV is “four or five years away, as with the rest of the new range”, said Gales.
The most likely option for the development of the SUV is for Lotus to work with its Chinese engineering partner, Goldstar Heavy Industrial. Gales said development work on the prototype was not something Lotus had started alone.
However the car is developed and made, Gales said it would be “a nice addition to the line-up” and noted that “no one makes a lightweight, good-handling SUV”. He added: “It’s a niche, and it looks well positioned.”
Gales believes the SUV has the potential to double or even treble Lotus’s planned annual sales volume of 4000 units — more than double today’s figure — once its next generation of sports cars is in production early in the next decade for sale in all major global markets.
Before the next generation of sports cars arrives, an open-top version of the Evora will be launched later next year, and more incremental improvements of Lotus’s existing Elise, Exige and Evora models will follow.
“We will show what we can do for now with existing sports cars,” said Gales.
The current models will be made faster and lighter and with improved aerodynamics and build quality, before the next-generation line-up is kick-started with the launch of the new Elise in 2020.
The new Elise and Exige will be built on an all-new version of Lotus’s bonded and extruded aluminium platform, and Gales has set his engineering team the task of making them the “handling benchmark”.
Gales said the Elise will weigh less than 1000kg and will grow only marginally in size, chiefly to accommodate a crash structure that will allow for sales in the US.
The US is seen as a key market for the new Elise and Exige. Lotus has engineered the Evora for sale in the US in its present guise without needing any safety concessions and adding less than 10kg in weight. The early success of the Evora in the US has allowed Lotus to be cashflow positive and provide greater security to the future business.
The same engineering process will be repeated for the Elise and Exige, allowing them to pass crash tests in the US and be sold with no safety concessions.
“We will make the Elise and Exige US-compliant, as we did for the Evora,” said Gales. “We have the confidence in-house. We’re the smallest US car maker on the market to be fully type approved and sold with no concessions. The Evora has an 8kg weight penalty for the US. With the Elise and Exige, the target is the same again. Crash tests are very important.”
Gales describes the next Elise and Exige launches as “the most significant, certainly” for Lotus in its history. Gales wants to build modularity into Lotus’s next sports car platform to allow the Elise and Exige to share more components with the next Evora, including heating and infotainment systems. There is little crossover at present, because the model ranges are built on separate bases. This will reduce complexity and engineering times.
“The platform on which the future products are based will need to span 140-150bhp to 450bhp, so it needs to be a very good and solid platform and we know it,” said Gales. “I like our extruded and bonded aluminium chassis. No one will find a way of doing it stronger or lighter, and it’s of huge quality. No brand beats it.
“I’d love a modular platform. Using big modules that are the same on all cars, such as the harnesses, lighting, infotainment and HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning], would be a big step forward. We don’t do that at present. In the future, we will do that across all three sports car lines. It will reduce costs.”
Gales also said he expects carbonfibre to be used for the future bodies of Lotus models, sourced locally from a company called Polar, from which Lotus already sources the material in smaller quantities.
As for what engines will power the future sports car range, Gales said Lotus “has a very good relationship with Toyota”. He added that the Japanese car maker was “the obvious choice”, although Lotus is keeping its eyes open for other partners.
Expect 1.6 and 1.8-litre engines to remain the core four-cylinder powerplants in the future Lotus range, while the supercharged 3.5-litre V6 is likely to be downsized to around 3.0 litres. Gales is not averse to the idea of that engine being turbocharged instead of supercharged.
“A turbo could be right if done correctly,” he added. “I don’t preclude it.”
Gales said the styling of the new Elise has been decided and will “evolve what we’ve got now” rather than try to reinvent Lotus design. “The new Elise is recognisable at 100 metres as an Elise,” he said.
The quality of Lotus’s interiors will also continue to be improved, and Gales is looking at ways of making Lotus’s infotainment offerings more competitive.
“Lotus is not known as a leader in infotainment but shouldn’t be last,” he said. “We’re working on improving. It needs to be fresh.”