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Lotus quashes rumours with launch of new range

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

The blogosphere has nothing better to do than snipe at Lotus, it often seems. Outrageous and false comments such as "Lotus is bankrupt" and "Dany Bahar is under threat" are common amongst some who appear to be trying to dig a hole for Proton and its sparkling subsidiary. But nothing could be further from the truth - and in Paris, Lotus has proved it with a Motor Show launch to shame far bigger manufacturers.

Let's get one thing straight right here, right now: Proton make some bloody good cars. Sure, there are some component issues but think of Fiat in the 1970s - and Alfa for much of the 1980s; think BL in the 1970s: you were lucky to get the car home from the showroom without something falling off.

Proton are a very young company and after a start as a screwdriver plant for retired Mitsubishi and Citroen models, they began producing their own vehicles only a little more than a decade ago and they leaned heavily on bought-in technology.

It is only within the past eight years that the Gen 2 and its booted sibling, the Waja and its booted version and the new Saga and the Exora MPV have appeared - and that's no mean feat for a car company that sells well under a million cars each year. Also - and this is not to be sneezed at - Proton is one of very few car companies that makes a consistent profit - even during the financial crisis it barely fell into loss despite the pace of model development. And its profits are increasing: Q1 2001 up from MYR105 from MYR64 in Q1 2009. For sure, GBP20 million isn't a big profit but it's a damned sight better than the thousands of millions of USD lost in recent years by Ford, GM and Chrysler to name but three. Later this year, a new model, to replace the Mitsubishi derived Waja will be announced. But there are rumours that this will be a locally re-engineered version of the Mitsubishi Fortis, a car that will fit in between the current Waja and the larger (but now out of production) Perdana which was a barely disguised Mitsubishi.

None of this would have been possible without the involvement of a bunch of geeks from a small subsidiary that Proton bought from General Motors as it was losing its way. That subsidiary was Lotus. Lotus builds cars but not many and, historically, with more than their fair share of problems. Indeed, Lotus used to be said to be an acronym for Lots of Trouble, Usually Serious.

Proton wasn't terribly interested in Lotus cars: what it wanted was the technical know-how that Lotus could bring to the table. Its development team had, over the years, built the street-racer Lotus Cortina and the formidable Lotus Carlton. For sure, Lotus worked on the engines but where they really scored was in making shopping trolleys handle like sports cars.

Lotus have contributed to the important bits of all Protons in recent years. On Malaysian motorways, it is fascinating to see that the bright lights tanking up the outside lane at 140k+ is very often a new model Saga. The bodywork may be made out of tissue paper and spit but the chassis and crash protection have full international standard integrity and the car's handling at speed is impeccable. This, it has to be remembered, is the totally new generation of the car that launched Proton in 1986 - and turned the company into an international laughing stock, able to sell cars only because they cost pocket money.

Things have changed and the reason for that is simply Lotus.

But the technical people at Lotus have not been sitting still: they now have some of the most advanced electric and hybrid engines anywhere; Tesler? It's a gimmick. The Lotus electric / hybrids are real-world cars for real-world people at sensible prices - or at least sensible given that they are balls-out sports cars.

Lotus has developed - and is ready to licence - various transmission systems and noise generators so that people don't walk into the path of silent cars.

It's a long way from the kit-car Lotus 7, sold in a cardboard box so enthusiasts could bolt it together themselves - and avoid purchase tax.

But all of that was overshadowed by the news in Paris. Media (at least this one) had become bored with endless releases telling us nothing except to watch for Paris for some news. And so, when Paris came, Lotus wasn't high on the agenda.

Mistake!

We knew that Proton, far from being ready to close or sell Lotus and far from being ready to sack the Lotus management team (which it has only recently recruited) and despite the international financial crisis, been investing heavily in Lotus. We knew that Lotus had tried a last-ditch effort to save the Esprit - killed because changing regulations in the US and Europe could not be accommodated and Proton investigated building the car in Malaysia for the Asian market but that proved to be not viable. And we knew that Lotus would unveil a tweaked Evora and some power-plant techie bits. And we knew that there would be some new models.

We did not expect what we got.

Lotus Esprit:

it might have taken several years but with production slated to start at the end of 2012 and first deliveries in early 2013, the five litre V8 powered, two seat, mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive weighs in at just 1,450kg.

Lotus Elan: the name many most associate with Lotus. The (unfairly) ill-fated front- wheel-drive model excepted, the Elan has been the iconic Lotus for forty years.

The 1960s Elan was a super-lightweight car with a small engine. The 2013 Elan is a lightweight car (1295kg) with a big engine. It's 4 litres and a V6. Two seater (optional 2+2), rear wheel drive and seven speed box.0-100kph? 3.5 seconds. And it has KERS - the technology F1 couldn't make work properly. Lotus have.

The new Elite will appear in 2014. Like all the new models, the car was in Paris in real life. These are not design exercises nor even concept cars. They are the real thing, almost snarling as passers by. The Elite is a 2+2 with that 5 litre V8 again. And a choice of hybrid with KERS. A cross-country express with a top speed of well over 300kph, the Elite has an all-glass roof giving it fighter-plane styling, full race seats and a cockpit that would not be out of place in a Eurofighter. The only thing missing, it seems, is a HUD.

Lotus are not throwing away the Elise.

The 2015 version uses the newly-agreed Toyota engine supply. A decade ago, as Lotus looked set to follow other specialist manufacturers in the UK into the despair of debt and collapse, the Elise was its only model with a future. During that period, variants and similar models (the Evora and Exige) have kept the production lines ticking over. And it remains a firm favourite in its various guises including the Exige - a hideous-looking pocket rocket. The 2015 Elise is anything but hideous - and now it becomes, incredibly, an entry level car. For sure, the price will increase - Lotus say it will cost about GBP35,000. But, and here's the thing: the engine's a two litre pushing out 320PS; there's a top speed of 270kph. The acceleration figure is not startling: 4.3 seconds to 100kph. Oh, and it weighs just 1,095kg.

But then came the news that was not expected. A British sports car to compete with Aston Martin and Maserati - and the grand tourers of the past. The Lotus Eterne.

0-100kph in four seconds, top speed 315kph, four seater, "front-mid-engined" with RWD and optional (yes, please) 4WD.

Hybrid engine optional. Hybrid +Kers gearbox with 5.0 litre V8 for petrol junkies. Weight 1,800kg. Revs to 8,500 rpm.

As Lotus builds its own new test / racing track there's little doubt that all those who have been trying to undermine the company and its management are choking on their words.

hahagotcha