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Factory visit to Lotus: ride in the Elise S Cup and Exige S Roadster

Rossen Gargolov
Factory visit to Lotus
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D he torrential rain during our last visit in April 2012 was a perfect match the doom and gloom in British Hethel at the time. While the production lines were standing still inside the Lotus plant, hundreds of supposedly finished vehicles were waiting outside for their headlights. Lotus could no longer pay its suppliers, so there were no more headlights. Elise, Exige and Evora with scratched eyes - at that time a symbol of the starving sports car brand.

Lotus should be profitable again by 2017

February 2015: As if nothing had happened, welcome us today with Lotus Elise S Cup and the Exige-S automatic version are two models on the in-house Lotus test track, whose relatives we have long loved and learned to appreciate in terms of lateral dynamics. At first glance, we encounter familiar things on the factory premises, but things have changed here in the background.

'In the future, every new Lotus will be even lighter and faster,' explains Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales. In May 2014, the Luxembourger took over the helm from Aslam Farikullah, who had steered the sports car manufacturer into calmer waters after Dany Bahar, the builder of the castles in the air, was kicked out. After losing millions in the last decades to Lotus like baked beans to British breakfast, Gales wants to make the company profitable again by 2017.

The 52-year-old, who was head of the PSA group from 2009 to 2012, The Lotus brand seems to be really close to my heart: “I love our cars. I drive home with prototypes three days a week, ”he tells us with shining eyes. Okay, at Chicken Teriyaki, many bosses have released cool PR salvos, but Gales sounds authentic. In addition to emotionality, he also has the rationality of a large corporate decision-maker. With all the love for the sometimes wonderfully shirt-sleeved, but also chaotic conditions, something like that has been missing from Lotus. It had to be saved, but at the same time Gales wants to improve the quality of the products.

Lotus wants to increase to 200 dealers worldwide

A radical cut followed: “In September 2014 we had 1,215 employees, now there are 960. But we're hiring again. For the new Evora we need 150 more workers in production, ”says Gales, looking ahead. More positive news: After poor sales horror yearsLotus sold 1,718 vehicles in the current fiscal year 2014/2015 by the end of January - an increase of 63 percent compared to January of the previous year. “We will close the year with up to 2,060 vehicles sold. Last year it was only 1,300, ”explains Gales. In the following financial year, Gales plans to sell 3,000 vehicles.

To this end, new markets are to be opened up and the worldwide dealer network is to be expanded from 168 to 200 dealers at present. Not only on the French Côte d'Azur, where there was previously no dealer, but also in Mexico City and the Philippines, Lotus vehicles should soon become an export hit. 'Guatemala is coming soon, there is a lot of money - coffee money,' adds the new Lotus boss with a smile.

Sounds a bit crazy as is typical of Lotus, but if the plan works, Gales will be the hero. However, the Luxembourger could achieve hero status among the sworn hardcore Lotus fans with the aforementioned lightweight construction. “We can still save weight everywhere. There will be a lightweight version of each model in the future - a lightweight Evora, a lightweight Exige and a lightweight Elise. Our basic cars are getting lighter and stronger. The lightweight versions are becoming even more radical. “

No more cup holders

Unlike Bahar, the advocate of larger and more comfortable vehicles, Jean-Marc Gales is a fan of light and compact cars. Before today's test drive, he takes us into what he calls the new “lightweight construction laboratory”. Behind it is a room in the development department, half the size of a basketball court. There are tables everywhere that are overcrowded with lotus components. Large analysis charts adorn the walls. Each component has a blue, red or green point. 'Green means 'is okay', red means 'too expensive and too heavy, so replace and improve' and blue stands for 'not applicable'', explains Gales while showing the cup holder from Elise and Exige.

“The cupholder will no longer exist in the future. That again saves half a kilogram. If you accelerate properly at the moment, the coffee spills out of the cup holder onto your knee, ”says the Lotus boss, pointing to the accompanying chart: The cup holder costs 20.48 British pounds in production. Eliminating it saves 30,865 pounds a year.

Similar reductions mean that a Lotus Evora will cost 3,000 pounds less to manufacture in the future. 'With the Exige you can still get around 2,000 euros per vehicle in production, with the Elise the savings are a bit lower,' explains Gales.

Lotus Elise S Cup with 220 hp

Peng, the new Lotus front man hit the nail right on the head. In spite of its endearing exotic status, it is slowly becoming impossible to protect the sometimes very wobbly gearbox.

The scratchy reverse gear of the current Elise S Cup test car also requires a lot of sensitivity. As usual, however, the latest derivative, which is based on the Elise racing version S Cup R, conjures up a euphoric smile on the face with robust steering, unfiltered driving experience and lightness that is so often missing today.

The performance data of the four-cylinder compressor have not changed compared to the well-known S model, but the 220 PS Cup version is supposed to circle the 3.5 kilometer test route three seconds faster. The aero package, consisting of rear wing, side skirts, front splitter and rear diffuser, should be primarily responsible for this. According to Lotus, the total downforce at 200 km /h is now 104 kg (standard Elise S: ​​8 kg at 200 km /h). Our test in Hockenheim will show what the Lotus Elise S Cup can really do better.

Lotus Exige S with automatic transmission

After five Elise laps in Hethel, we switch to the roadster version of the Lotus Exige S. The Roadster (from 69,040 euros) and Coupé (from 67,940 euros) are now available as automatic versions (automatic option: surcharge 2,600 euros). The six-speed automatic works reliably in everyday operation. But how does the automatic drive on the racetrack? Under full load, the transmission reacts reasonably quickly to upshift commands on the right steering wheel paddle. Thumbs up for the real manual mode (no autonomous upshifts at maximum speed).

When downshifting, the transmission is likely to react even more jaggedly to the rocker commands despite the emotional double-throttle bumps in sport and race mode. Other automated transmissions work even faster at the limit. But let's be honest: You just don't order a Lotus with an automatic transmission. Just thinking about it, Lotus founder Colin Chapman turns nervously in his grave!

The lightweight construction plans of Jean-Marc Gales would certainly have pleased the greatest weight reducer of all time.

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