Lotus Names Its New Model Emira

Lotus Names Its New Model Emira

04/27/2021

Lotus is tough. The British sportscar maker (and seven-time championship-winning Formula 1 constructor) has endured more crises than almost any other automaker, yet has withstood them all. The company’s takeover by the Chinese Geely group in 2017 brought an unprecedented level of investment to the brand, one which is about to lead to a new-product wave to both replace the elderly existing line-up – the Elise, Exige and Evora are all on run-out – and dramatically increase sales.

That’s the hope anyway, and one Autoweek got to discuss with the company’s recently appointed managing director, Matt Windle. Our discussion took place ahead of the new car’s formal naming, Emira (that was just announced today, April 27), set to be Lotus’ last combustion engined model.

“My job is all about turning [Lotus] into a sustainable business and getting to where revenue can fund new products,” Windle told Autoweek, “I suppose my role really is to set us up for the next 70 year. In the previous 70 there have been some points where we’ve only just survived. It’s that security, that sustainability, which is really important.”

Windle began his career at Lotus before moving on to an extended tour of other automakers. He initially went to Tesla, working on the Lotus-based Roadster, and working closely with a youthful Elon Musk. After that he had stints with Nissan, Volvo and several of Britain’s other small sportscar makers, before returning to Lotus in 2017 as engineering boss. He was promoted to the top job when his predecessor Phil Popham quit at the end of last year. (Lotus tends to go through senior executives, Windle is the company’s fifth new leader since Dany Bahar’s controversial reign ended nine years ago.)

“Being a product guy helps with a job like this,” he told us, “my personal opinion is that Lotus should always have a product man at the top – because that’s the most important thing. You need to be able to understand what you’re trying to do and to give feedback on it as well.”

Windle’s current obsession is getting the Emira launched: our interview took place with just 80 days before market introduction. The basics are largely familiar – it will sit on a version of the bonded aluminum platform Lotus has employed for 25 years and will continue to use supercharged Toyota V6 engines in its more powerful guises, this available with either manual or automatic gearboxes. But the Emira has also been designed to be more usable than its predecessors, and will also gain the option of a cheaper 2.0-liter turbo four that will drive through a twin-clutch transmission.

“We’ve tried to cover as many bases as possible,” Windle says, adding that two powerplants will enable Lotus to cover most of the market.

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“It’s a Lotus that you can live with, we’ve given it broader appeal, but it’s still a fantastic sportscar with a range of different models that will go from a base spec up to an R.”

Although more civilized than its predecessors, the Emira will be a traditional Lotus. But the cars that follow it are set to be considerably more radical. The next in line, being developed under the code name Type 132, will be a pure EV produced in China and will be what Windle calls a “lifestyle vehicle” – meaning something on the crossover-SUV continuum.“We need to go into different markets and we need to go into different segments,” Windle told Autoweek, “we need to increase our revenue through volume and create a virtuous circle where we get the money to invest in the product. We still plan for Hethel to be our sportscar manufacturing facility, and our engineering headquarters, but we will be having a manufacturing facility in China in Wuhan that will be producing the lifestyle vehicles for us, and that will be a Geely facility.”

It’s a move that will doubtless cause dissent among some of the brand’s loyalists, but one Windle says the company can’t afford not to make. The resulting cars will sit on Lotus’s own platform – dubbed Electric Performance Architecture – rather than Geely or Volvo underpinnings. “We could easily have taken Geely platforms and developed cars on them, but that wouldn’t give you a true Lotus,” he says, “we can do premium luxury, but we can also do intelligent technology that will make a car a Lotus. Yes, it will be heavier than a standard Lotus, but it will be the lightest car in its class.”

Lotus is also keen to work with other automakers to develop models that will share this new platform – the company’s contract engineering business often kept it afloat during sales troughs for its own cars. Separately from that Lotus has already signed a deal to jointly develop a new lightweight EV sportscar architecture with Renault, one that will spawn both Lotus and Alpine versions. It’s a situation that has caused some déjà vu for Windle, who worked for Caterham when it was planning to co-develop a model alongside what is now the European market Alpine A110.

“I’ve seen joint ventures before and it’s fair to say I’ve seen the problems,” Windle admits (the Caterham project never progressing beyond the drawing board), “but if you come to them with a mindset of collaboration and working together you can make things go much further, and you can get a better investment for everyone concerned – a product that will get much more durability testing.”

Lotus’ sales volumes have been running far below long term sustainability for many years, the company built fewer than 1,400 cars in 2020. But now it is on the cusp of what Windle hopes will be a dramatic transformation. The Hethel factory can make up to 5,000 Emiras a year with a single production shift. That looks like a modest total, but would be a 21st century high point for the brand if achieved. And the numbers proposed for the Chinese-built models will be much higher, the Wuhan plant having a capacity of up to 150,000 cars a year. Within five years, Lotus could have increased its global sales a hundredfold.

“The opportunity is massive,” says Windle, “but the challenge is massive, too. Expectations for Lotus have been pretty low for years, so we can make a big jump to start with. But then how do we sustain that, how do we go the extra mile?”

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