Lotus Elan in frame as Boxster rival in revival plan Elan could be reborn as a refined roadster as part of Lotus’s bold model expansion
New Lotus Elan – now Lotus’s comeback is really getting interesting
Lotus is considering reintroducing the Elan name on a new drop-top sports car, as well as other models in a back catalogue that includes the Elite, the Europa and the Esprit.
The Elan name is said by sources at the Hethel-based firm to have a strong possibility of being revived in the next few years. Few of the details are known at this stage but insiders are said to be “very excited” by the proposed configuration of this car, which is expected to be positioned above the Elise as a two-seat convertible with more refinement, space and creature comforts to take on the Porsche Boxster. Despite this, the new car should stick to the classic Lotus traits of being lighter than rivals and among the best in its class to drive.
The Elan would be positioned above the Elise with more space and creature comforts
The company is developing an all-new, rivet-bonded platform to replace its two existing structures – with the Elise/Exige architecture dating back to 1995, and the Evora to 2008. The all-new platform, which is around two years away, will provide the basis for a new sports car range including the Elan.
The proposed new model would be the third-generation Elan; the first highly regarded version of this sports car series was introduced in 1962. The platform family on which it’s broadly based is the central plank of a new product cycle plan that’s part of Lotus’s 10-year ‘Vision 80’ strategy.
Before these newcomers, Lotus will launch the last variation on the current Evora platform, a new sports model. It will appear late next year as a very driver-focused package but it will also be significantly easier to get in and out of than current models and have much improved ergonomics.
Alongside this, CEO Phil Popham has expressed a need to overhaul the brand’s rather limited connectivity technology, so we could see new Lotuses ditching the usual aftermarket stereo systems for a bespoke infotainment set-up. Planning a decade ahead is a given for most car makers but a strategic rarity for Lotus. It has been enabled by the Vision 80 investment programme led by Popham. In the past, the company has typically had the resources to develop only one car at a time. Now it can realise a complete product plan.
The scale of this investment has been estimated at around £1.5 billion by Bloomberg, although this figure is said to be “very conservative” by a Lotus spokesman. That sum should be enough to pay for the new architecture, whose structural concept will be similar to the current platform. Lotus will retain the rivetbonded alloy core concept, which, insiders say, provides excellent overall stiffness and allows plenty of scope to increase local rigidity for different models. These qualities will be essential if the high-grade driving dynamics promised by the company’s ‘for the driver’ brand ambition are to be achieved.
The rivet-bonded approach also suits Lotus’s sales goals. Although the firm is aiming to increase sales sixfold – from last year’s 1630 cars to around 10,000 by 2029 – this vehicle construction method reportedly remains the best solution for Lotus’s relatively low volumes.
Lotus is aiming to increase its sales from last year’s 1630 cars to around 10,000 by 2029
The rivet-bonded and composite structure is also light – essential to the Lotus mission – and its detail design will benefit from the brand’s 25 years of production experience with this technology.
As before, a mix of materials will be used, probably across a wider palette that includes carbonfibre and several metals. A key ambition will be to reduce the time required to build each car, say insiders. That will be achieved by reducing the time it takes to bond each structure and also by cutting the number of hours required to assemble a car, the corollary of which should be improved quality. Containing costs will be aided by the use of ‘keep zones’, the term Lotus engineers use to describe the three-dimensional slices of architecture that will be shared among all cars using this new platform. One example is the position of the front wheel relative to the driver’s seat, a high-investment zone of the platform that it makes sense to retain across all versions. But the ‘keep zones’ strategy doesn’t preclude tailoring the wheelbase and track to suit the needs of different models, insiders say.
As for the new model being introduced late next year, this will be the last new variant to be developed on the current Evora platform and much effort has been expended on ergonomics. That includes not only the driving position and forward visibility but also the ease of getting into and out of the car, a drawback of the current models that has limited sales. Given the wide variety of cars to be derived from the all-new platform – from trackonly models via an Elan to the Evora and Esprit supercar, which is also understood to be a long-term goal for Lotus – the scope for a variety of dynamic and functional levels will need to be built in. The company has reportedly done a lot of work assessing competitor cars to define these goals at the outset for each new model.
The targets also include the cars’ electrical functionality. Insiders have reported that membership of the Geely Group is giving Lotus affordable access to everything from infotainment systems and electronic dampers to electric power steering technology. The last of these will be essential for providing the advanced driver assistance systems mandated by law in some markets, but there will also be models, probably track-focused ones, with unassisted steering.
Regulations and a shifting market will also demand that alternative powertrains be developed and these are said to be under evaluation. But, as Lotus found when developing the Tesla Roadster from the Elise, packaging large numbers of battery cells can affect both the platform’s design and the car’s dynamic behaviour, which Lotus will hope to limit in part by harnessing tech from Geely. The recent announcement of a Geely combustion engine and hybrid development centre, created by combining the Volvo and Geely internal combustion development departments, would provide a source of expertise.
A further sign of the more substantial resources behind Lotus is the plan to develop all models for worldwide homologation from the start, as well as building in the scope to cater for the customer requirements of markets such as China and the US. The long-mooted SUV will be key to these markets. It is tipped to become Lotus’s ‘cash cow’ in the same way the volumeselling Cayenne and Macan have become for Porsche.
“Today, Porsche is our benchmark,” Group Lotus CEO Feng Qingfeng told Drive-My earlier this year.
Second-gen Elan (above, left) showed Lotus’s expertise with front drive, but the rear-drive Mk1 (above, right) is regarded more fondly
LOTUS ENGINEERING SET TO EXPAND HORIZONS AS WELL
Lotus Engineering, the division that acts as an engineering consultant for third-party clients, is set to be expanded under new leadership. Boss Miguel Fragoso has begun reinvigorating the division, with a new commercial director appointed. Fragoso has kept a team “working on the areas instrumental in maintaining our capability”, such as advanced structures, dynamics, propulsion systems and electronic controls.
During the cost-cutting drive under previous Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales, Lotus Engineering’s contribution to the group’s turnover dwindled to as little as 15%. In the past, it has contributed almost half. However, Fragoso has credited Gales with bringing “the financial discipline that it didn’t have. That made it more attractive for an investor.”
Recent projects have included an exploratory exercise in collaboration with Jaguar Land Rover for the government’s Technology Strategy Board and two projects with unnamed Japanese companies.
“We’ve been able to keep some extraordinary talent,” said Fragoso. He also pointed out that by offering services in these areas, “we are more than subject specialists, we are a car company ourselves”, providing additional insight. For these reasons and because of the fresh impetus behind Lotus Engineering, Fragoso said: “We’re back in business.” It’s a business he divides into two broad areas: one being the familiar mainstream car makers, the other start-ups. Within this, he said: “We will be working with Geely.” For the future, Fragoso said: “We want to be among the leading companies providing these services. And these companies aren’t small.” Assisting this ambition will be the fact that Lotus is now developing the electric Evija hypercar and a new family of sports cars, a process that exposes it more fully to the latest technologies, better enabling it to take on “projects that align with our sports car plans”.
Lotus Engineering is “back in business”
ARE BORN ELAN MAKES SO MUCH SENSE FOR LOTUS
Hard to think of a good reason why Lotus wouldn’t bring back the Elan, what with the cachet of that great name and the ambition of the company’s new Geely-led management, which among other assets has access to an enticing collection of Volvo/ Geely/Lynk&Co running gear.
Lotus’s sibling companies have already conquered many of the problems that might have deterred others thinking of a lowish-volume roadster for global sale. As well as access to major components, Lotus already knows what kind of chassis to use. It has an enviable understanding of bonded riveted aluminium structures and has even put recent time into defeating the system’s biggest problem as demonstrated on the Elise: awkward ingress and egress. Bigger doors and lower sills are now pretty simple to provide.
Lotus lovers – and the company’s long-suffering dealers – will hear this news (if news it be) and welcome the future. It’s very hard to think of five words in Lotus language that could have a more beneficial impact on business than these: “They’re bringing back the Elan.”