A capital injection by China’s Geely has the British automaker ready to change its old model.
Many months ago, I had lunch with some people at the Se7en rally. What is Se7en? It’s all about Lotus 7s and cars that look like Lotus 7s: you know, Caterhams, Birkins, DIY kits, you name it. Sitting at our table was a dashing English gentleman with his little roadster – he discovered that he was actually an engineer from Lucas Electronics.
You should have heard these jokes! Lucas holds a patent for short circuit; if Lucas built a gun, the war wouldn’t start; and my favorite Lucas company motto: “Go home before dark.” But, this formerly kind engineer Instead of making fun of our rather mild sarcasm, it got pissed. Like, really pissed off. I forgot the details of the conversation, but I was struck by how proud this man was of his company.
17 years later, I find myself putting rubber bands on rings and sweatbands on watches and belt buckles. I’m about to step into the revamped Lotus factory in Hessel, UK, following a €100m revamp of the combined plant by Chinese parent company Geely (which also owns Volvo).
Why all the padding? Lotus didn’t want anyone in the factory to spoil the paint on the new Emira while it was still being built. In my career, I’ve been to dozens of auto plants — from the Ford Focus in Michigan to the Rolls-Royce plant on the Goodwood campus — and I’ve never seen such precautions taken. Of course, I have rarely seen such a pretty color. Like everything else Lotus has considered, every aspect of the company now feels real and sober.
For me at least – and I’m sure, for many others – this was never before. Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s motto “Simplify, then add ease” sounds pretty nifty until you realize it’s mostly a glossy saying, “Cost, take everything out.” If you don’t believe me, please Check out the trailing arm suspension on the Eclat. I’ve never owned a Lotus, but I remember MotorTrend’s long-running Evora S ten years ago, which was in the shop for three months because its passenger airbag cover failed. Lotus quietly drove the car back. Even the recently-produced Evora GT—a superb driving car—has a home-made quality that’s charming in a bubble, but not so tasty when parked next to a Porsche Cayman.
I don’t think cars like these early Lotus models can be produced in this modern factory. There are several points on the assembly line where a car can be rejected for a number of reasons before being moved to another area of the factory for paint checks and corrections. (Cool side note: The factory is an old WWII-era US Air Force base.) According to the people who showed me around, it wasn’t like that in the past. Also, no cars were turned back. Read this sentence again. Going back to my grand Kim Jong-un-esque experience of walking through car factories and seeing things, I saw machines, stations and robots that reminded me of Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley and McLaren factories. left a deep impression on me.
Another reason I’ve long regarded Lotus as a serious automaker stems from Dany Bahar’s brief era. It’s not fair to call it a roller coaster because roller coasters don’t crash in the end. For me and most others, the big one is the six cars Lotus unveiled at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, none of which are already in production. As you can imagine, Bahar was fired shortly after. The Lotus PR and I were talking about the tragic Bahar experience as we entered another old hangar, the Evija line, which I’m sure will never happen. Correction: “production line” is a misnomer; the Evija is built much like Pagani assembles cars on wheeled carts parked at train stations. It turns out, as usual, I was completely wrong. Then I saw an Evija with no body parts and my jaw hit the ground.
In addition to the production car factory, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several places where Formula 1 cars and the parts that make up F1 cars are. Also, I usually spend a lot of time watching cars with their skin removed. I can’t believe what I’m seeing here. Instead of looking at some crap, I looked at the guts of a car that looked like a $2 million electric supercar. I’ve seen carbon ceramic brake discs of this type before – I was in the F1 parts building at the Brembo factory. Not only was I shocked (pardon the pun) that the Evira actually happened, but imagine my surprise when I saw the technicians put together the first production car, which was built by Mr. Geely himself , owned by Chairman Eric Li
Then I drove the new Emira. I’ll have a full review soon, but let’s just say it’s not just an improved Evora GT. What if I had to describe it in one word? “Serious.” This is a serious sports car from a serious company. That means it’s a serious attempt at a really fun car.
I also checked out the Eletre, Lotus’ first SUV that also happens to be fully electric. I have some doubts about the design, but I’m sure the quality level is good enough to compete with the Tesla Model Y and Polestar 2. The best sales year in Lotus history was less than 1,500 units. Geely hopes the company will eventually reach 100,000 cars and SUVs combined annually. Before my visit to Hethel, I would laugh at the figures and consider them a Bahar-era reinvention. Now? Like the guy I mentioned above, I don’t laugh. I take lotus seriously.
Connor Mason is a passionate automotive journalist and the author behind the popular website motonews.info. With years of experience in the automotive industry, Connor is well-versed in all things related to cars and motorcycles.