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Leading, Original, Trend-setting, Unique, Special - that'll be LOTUS, then

Editorial Staff

There used to be a game to make up versions of names for airlines and car manufacturers. For Lotus, it was said that the name was an acronym for "Lots of trouble, usually serious". Not any more - and the little factory in Norfolk remains a hotbed of innovation. Amongst its projects is serious work on hybrids.

Stuff a Prius - how about a hybrid Evora?

The hybrid project began as an exercise in viability but, Lotus being Lotus - they did, after all, show a Jet Boat in the London Boat Show in the early 1970s - they just went ahead and built it.

Parent company Proton will show in Geneva the "PROTON concept." It will be on the Italdesign stand - Proton having learned the advantages of European design studio input at the early stages of car design.

This is no Prius rival: it's what Smart could have done if they had not committed so heavily to Mitsubishi mechanicals, which is ironic as Proton has itself come out from the shadow of being, to a degree, a screwdriver plant for outdated but reskinned Mitsubishi models.

And dragging Proton out of those shadows has been a pace of innovation and development that is staggering for such a tiny manufacturer - due in no small measure to the men in the mustard fields.

Lotus Engineering has designed and integrated the complete drivetrain, including the electrical drive system with single-speed transmission, which delivers low emissions, optimised performance and "acceptable electric-only operating range for city use."

But the car is not restricted to golf-cart range - a 3 cylinder, 1.2 litre Lotus Range Extender engine is used to recharge the battery and provide electrical power for the drive motors. The battery can also be recharged using an ordinary three-pin AC mains domestic electric socket to reach initial electric-only operation.

The Lotus Extender engine was first shown last year at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

But it's in another part of the factory that the exciting thing sits, waiting for its journey to Geneva where it will take its place on the Lotus stand. It's copper coloured - it would be: that's the colour of electrical wiring. It's tiny: hey, it's a Lotus. And in the back is a Lotus hybrid engine. And elsewhere is a showcase of Lotus hybrid / electric power research, all of which has been announced in the past 18 months or so.

Compromise? 0-60mph in under 4 seconds so no significant compromise there. Total range (hybrid) more than 300 miles: that's incredible for a high performance car so no compromise there. Running down people because electric cars are silent? Nope: HALOsonic Internal and External Electronic Sound Synthesis developed by Lotus and Harman International is included.

The engine? Here's a shock - it's that little 1.2 litre Range Extender that will also be in the PROTON Concept. The range extended electric drive of the Evora 414E Hybrid is made up of two electric motors, one driving each of the rear wheels independently via single speed geartrain, integrated into a common transmission housing. This enables torque vectoring for stability control of the vehicle.

Electrical power is stored in a lithium polymer battery pack optimised for energy density, efficiency and high power demand, mounted in the centre of the vehicle for stability and safety. Additional range is provided by the Lotus Range Extender engine, optimised for the Evora. The drivetrain is designed to combine astonishing performance with efficient, low emissions driving.

HALOsonic Internal and External Electronic Sound Synthesis technologies provide sound contouring within the cabin and improve pedestrian safety outside the vehicle. In short, it makes car-like noises even when it's running on silent electric power.

There are other electric sports cars - but they are either way outside the budget of all but the super-rich - or have hopelessly short ranges and break down a lot. The Evora is neither: for everyday commuting journeys, up to 35 miles can be travelled using battery power. The battery can be charged overnight or in an office car park using a conventional domestic mains supply through a socket concealed by the rear number plate. This means zero tailpipe emissions. For longer journeys, exceeding the battery capacity, the highly efficient range extender engine is used as a generator to supply the motor with electrical power and top up the battery.

Lotus say the total lifetime CO2 emissions of the vehicle, including the energy required to manufacture and run it and the range extender solution has a lower overall CO2 footprint than a fully electric car of comparable performance and operating range running with a larger battery.

And as befits a sports car, the tech doesn't stop at the engine. The car includes "virtual gearshift simulation." Like a conventional gearbox, is used to change the driving characteristics and response of the vehicle. The most significant aspect that this offers the driver is the ability to control the vehicle deceleration by simulating engine braking through a virtual downshift in gears. Unlike true engine braking, the Lotus system does not dissipate the energy of the moving vehicle through internal engine friction but uses the electric motors to regenerate the energy back into the battery. While many electric and hybrid vehicles provide engine braking, this is generally at a fixed rate or preselected rate. In some driving situations this can either be too aggressive, slowing the vehicle unnecessarily, or too light, requiring additional braking application. The Lotus system effectively allows the driver to select the appropriate level of regeneration by simulating stepping down by one, two or even three gears. The simulation of engine braking through both the gear noise change and the retardation of the vehicle is fully intuitive to a driver familiar with a conventional gearbox. The simulated gearchange capability can be selected for greater driving involvement or switched off for more relaxed driving.