End of an Era for Lotus?
Can Lotus survive change?
I've never enjoyed the privilege of owning a Lotus. However, Lotus have always and WILL always be on my personal car 'bucket list'. I can remember back in the eighties mythering my dad to get a Lotus Espirit after having watched Mr. Bond casually destroy several of them in various interesting ways. There's always been something fundamentally exciting about the Lotus brand. Buying a Lotus marks you out a person who values a pure driving experience. Lotus have never marketed their cars on the number of cup holders in the cabin, or the litres of boot space.
So what IS so special about the Lotus design philosophy?
Well it all harkens back to Colin Chapman's original famous quote. That his design philosophy was to 'Simplify, then add lightness'. This philosophy was really evident in the first big, breakthrough road car for Lotus - the Lotus Seven.
Image by Sarah Stierch | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1962_Lotus_7_-_2015_Sonoma_Raceway_-_Stierch.jpg
The car was as simple as a car could get. In the purest versions you got no doors, no roof, no windscreen. You essentially got a chassis, wheels, minimal bodywork, an engine and gearbox with appropriate pedals and wheels to control them and the legally required lights. Oh, and something to sit on while you drove it. But that was it. You got what you needed and nothing more. The design of the Lotus 7 was so successful that it endured long beyond its shelf-life at Lotus and became the iconic Caterham 7 and its Westfield equivalent, along with about 4 million other 'Locost 7' Lotus rip off kit cars. The car was originally mainly sold as a kit even from Lotus as this made it significantly cheaper due to avoiding 'sales tax'.
You can still see the 1960s styling in the modern car and they are still enjoyed by enthusiasts all over the world.
Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caterham_Roadsport_125_Monaco_(2013)_-_10275824026.jpg
This design philosophy continued throughout the years when Lotus had abandoned the kit car model and were producing factory cars like the Elan, the Europa, the Excel and the iconic Lotus Espirit.
Lotus Elan - Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lotus_Elan_%2B2_registered_May_1971.jpg
Lotus Europa - Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lotus_Europa_Special_1972_-_front.jpg
Lotus Excel - Image Source:- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lotus_Excel_(2521957351).jpg
Lotus Espirit - Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1997_Lotus_Espirit_Series_4_(30451219707).jpg
But what about modern Lotus Cars?
If anything Lotus actually doubled down on this philosophy when they released the Lotus Elise back in 1996. This was a 2 seater, open top sports car with a pathetic 118 hp engine, harvested out of Rover's parts bin. Yet at 725kg, it was so light it was faster than many allegedly 'fast' cars of the day. It was also relatively cheap to run thanks to the Rover power plant.
Lotus Elise - Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lotus_Elise_S1_-_Flickr_-_Alexandre_Pr%C3%A9vot_(3).jpg
I had a colleague who owned an Elise back in the early noughties. I actually had a passenger lap around Donnington Park in one that had been fitted with a 200 BHP Honda Integra Type R engine. They personified the design philosophy perfectly. The Elise was a Lotus 7 for the modern Era. The bonded, rigid aluminium chassis with the lightweight bodywork was such a successful design it endured for over 20 years, even finding its way into the ultra-hardcore Lotus Exige and the softer, 2+2 Evora. In the 1990s Lotus weren't in great shape. The Elise was the car that saved Lotus and guided the company's designs for the next 20 years. Eventually Lotus moved away from the Rover engine and began using a more reliable, powerful Toyota engine. They even collaborated with Vauxhall/Opel to create an 'off-brand' Elise in the form of the VX220 or Opel Speedster. They say the VX220 Turbo is actually an excellent Elise Variant and great fun to drive.
Vauxhall VX220 / Opel Speedster - Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Opel_Speedster_(40449875625).jpg
So what's happening with Lotus now?
What's got me concerned you mean? Well, the world has changed again. We're moving into an era where 'petrol' is fast becoming a dirty word and the dungarees and sandals brigade are advocating everyone goes vegan and starts driving lithium powered 'white goods on wheels'. Lotus KNOWS this, and that's why they've thrown their all into designing and building the Evija.
Lotus Evija - Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lotus_Evija_front.jpg
Now before we get into it - I think the Evija looks epic. I want to say it SOUNDS epic, but it's 100% electric so the symphony of pistons and cam shafts will sadly, be absent. On paper it SOUNDS epic for sure - nearly 2000 bhp. 0 - 60 mph in under 3 seconds, 0 - 186 mph in 9 seconds and a top speed of OVER 200 mph. The Evija is a SERIOUS piece of kit. However, it's arguably heavy. It weighs over 1600kg, that's more than double the 1996 Lotus Elise.
Recently Lotus announced it was ending production for the Elise, the Exige and the Evora. We're seeing lots of special editions and attractive offers from Lotus. They're trying to sell off stock.
The question is, what is Lotus up to? What have they got planned for the future? As of now, all we have to go off is the insanely expensive, heavy, ultra-rare, hypercar - the Lotus Evija. It's a marvel of modern engineering, but it's a far cry from the humble beginnings of the Lotus 7. It's not an evolution like the Elise was, but a revolution. Is it an omen of where Lotus sees itself in the future?
If so, then I think that's sad. Why? Because it will mean Lotus has lost its very soul. Its essence of being. The philosophy of 'Simplify, then add lightness' will become a distant, yet fond memory.
I'm writing this partly because I enjoyed Tim Rodie's recent review of the Exige Sport 390 Final Edition so much.
We say goodbye to the Exige and find out if it really was a bit underrated
In that short film he reminded me of what it's like to jump into a car which makes driving it an occasion EVERY time you sit behind the wheel. Something I doubt you'll ever get from an electric car - no matter how powerful or exotic it is.
Considering Lotus started out selling their kits at least partly on the basis they were cheap, the cars have become very expensive over the years. Even the original Elise, was relatively cheap for what it could do around a track. Now, even the base Elise starts at £45,500. If you want a Lotus Sports car which you can take your family out in, then you're looking at an Evora for a starting price of £85,675. That's a £3000 premium over a base Porsche 911 Carrera. I know the Lotus is a more exciting prospect than the current base Carrera - I accept that. However, the 911 is probably a car that easier to use day to day for shopping and dropping the kids off at school.
Will we see a range full of clever hybrids and electric performance cars from Lotus? Or just super economical petrol engines with their green credentials based on the promise of carbon neutral 'efuels'? I don't know. I can't wait to see what Lotus has in store for its next generation of cars, but honestly? I'm afraid they'll all be very heavy.... And very expensive...
showing a lack of respect for people or things that are generally taken serious
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