News that as part of its new five-year plan, just announced, Lotus is to move from its present position as a niche sports car maker to chase the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin is at once shocking and predictable.
It has long been clear that Lotus's owners, Proton, are convinced that the Lotus name has more inherent prestige value than its low to mid-priced offerings have seemed to convey. Lotus is, after all, one of the few road cars you can buy (Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault are the others, soon to be followed by McLaren) whose name also goes on the nose of an F1 car.
It is even possible to see how they intend to do it in the short term, too. The recently launched Evora, a slow seller, has chassis and suspension technology designed to work with the so-called 'new Esprit', a 200mph exotic car with a big capacity north-south engine, meant to fight in the same pool as the new Ferrari 458 and the forthcoming McLaren MP4-12C. There is certainly no shortage of engineering expertise at Lotus to devise other high-priced concepts.
Nevertheless, the move must fill many long-time Lotus-watchers with feelings of deep uncertainty. Lotus has no history of building cars strong on quality and craftsmanship, like Porsches or modern Astons. The Evora, good in so many ways, showed that these things will have to be learned.
The new plan also seems to suggest that Lotus's emphasis will move right away from the Elise and its Exige offshoot, though together they make Lotus's most successful and longest-lasting range since the original front-engined Elan of the '60s, the Elise. Even the Evora now looks not to be far enough up the prestige pole to please the men at Proton.
Scariest of all is the strong indication the Proton-Lotus management has lost its awareness of, and care for, the Lotus legacy laid down by founder Colin Chapman, whose cars were light, small, simple yet amazingly fast and agile. Sure, there is room in the market for a light, small and simple supercar - Gordon Murray has his eye on just such a design - but the initial suggestion that future Lotus models must be 'premium' seems to suggest they'll need to be luxurious too, and too much of that can often be accompanied by bulk, weight, size and complex design and stratospheric pricing.
Lotus's new masters have said too little so far for their efforts to be criticised. The five-year plan might work. But if they intend selling cars to those of us who, by observing and owning over 50 years of models, think we already know what a Lotus is, they'll need to explain themselves much, much better. Starting with reassuring us about the future of the Elise.