Jean-Marc Gales, former PSA boss, took over at Lotus in May 2014 and the situation was disastrous. His predecessor, Dani Bahar, had left the company in tatters. Lotus was short on cash, losing money, lacking investments and ideas and, on top of all that, dear old Dani had pulled off some sketchy tricks which also left legal residues. Furthermore, Lotus had nothing on sale. It all came down to the old Elise, a car that hasn't really changed in two decades and the Evora which costs Porsche-money and so nobody buys one. Gales started cutting cots, scrapped Bahar's improbable plans for five new models and told everybody to work harder, basically. It worked and in November 2016, the company reported operating profits for the first time in forty (!) years. Then, last Summer, Gales left the company.
However, even though Lotus, as a company, is indeed doing better these days, it appears that as a carmaker it is structurally unable to make new cars. Under Geely's ownership, the Chinese automotive giant, Lotus is still only making the Elise, the Exige and the Evora. But I'm not a salesperson, and I'm not in finance, so as it stands, I'm quite happy with the Elise still being around. That's why some time ago I drove one, again.
The Elise turned 22 in 2018 and she hasn't changed. Lotus began making the Elise in 1996 and the car was named after Romano Artioli's nephew (look her up on your Instagram, she has a series 1 Elise and can be seen at car meetings and car shows from time to time), who was chairman of Lotus and Bugatti at the time. It is everything Chapman always wanted cars to be: simple and light. Even though some things have been added over the years, it took Lotus forever just to equip it with ABS and cruise control, it still the same. When you open the door, you're presented with a bare interior with thin seats and you have to climb aboard by sort-of hopping over the chassis. The engine is behind your shoulders, which means that the car is hot, uncomfortable and loud. And great.
I know I keep banging on about this but I don't understand why more people don't: weight is everything. Carmakers spend billions trying to make their cars better in every way but they usually end up with a new car that's heavier than the model it replaces. The weight affects everything. It affects stability, performance, fuel consumption and even emissions. There's no point having a 5-million litre W47 with 8 turbos if your car weighs more than a killer whale. The Elise goes like the clappers, it is relatively economical to run and handles beautifully because it's light. It's not rocket science.
I first drove the Elise, the 111 R M.Y. 2010 (189 hp), in 2010 but I still remember everything. It accelerated quickly and sharply and it handled like it was on rails. It handled so well, my neck muscles began to hurt. More to the point, I remember thinking many things but "this car is too slow" wasn't one of them. That's only my opinion, it seems, because while handing me the key to the S M.Y. 2012 you're seeing here, the man from Lotus said, "Ah, you've driven that, huh? Bit slow, innit?" No, it wasn't. But I understand why he would say that.
Even sitting down in one is an experience. You're basically sitting on the ground and even if you're not very tall, your head will be touching the ceiling, and your knees will be at the same height as your elbows. The S 2012 I've driven has 216 hp and only weighs over 900 kg and this combination makes the car, in technical terms, devilish fast. It is a very direct car, this, it is easy to drive and more to the point it tricks you into thinking you're a great driver even if, like me, you aren't. This machine is constantly communicating with you. It tells you where and how and how much you should turn the steering wheel, and what's going on with the road surface. This, unfortunately, makes it very difficult to use on a daily basis because, apart from not being practical, it is also uncomfortable.
Petrolheads love the Elise and it's easy to see why. It's driving in its purest form. You, the car, nothing else. I've heard everything about this car. At some point, there have even been rumours about a new hybrid Elise being built. It's ok. We get what we get. I just don't want the Elise to go and as they say: for things to remain the same, everything must change.