GROWTH IS THE BEST IN TWO DECADES, WRITES JAMES WONG
The boss of sportscar maker Lotus has pointed to the year 2020 for a new-generation Elise that will stay true to its roots as a lightweight sports car, according to a new report.
Bolstered by relatively strong sales of the new Evora 400, along with growing orders for the latest Elise and Exige models, Lotus is poised to return to profit in 2017 – for the first time in 20 years.
It’s that growth that is allowing the company to push forward with the development of a next-generation Elise.
Since its introduction in 1996, the Elise pioneered the use of extruded aluminium chassis technology, which serves as the basis for all of the current Lotus range. According to British website Autocar, Lotus chief Jean-Marc Gales has confirmed the new car will be ready at the end of the decade.
Gales said the next-generation car will stay true to its lightweight roots, something other companies have tried to replicate but not mastered.
The Lotus Elise S club racer.
“The Elise chassis has often been copied but never equalled,” he told Autocar.
“Combine that with the steering feel and you have something truly special. The DNA of that car is its light weight, its steering feel, [and] the balance of power and drivability.”
“At every price point [the Elise] is sold in, it is the fastest car for the money – and always the most special to drive,” said the Lotus boss.
Weight reduction will continue to be a central focus for the new car’s underpinnings, a notion carried down from the days of Lotus founder Colin Chapman.
“It is a philosophy we want to continue, no matter what car we build,” Gales said.
The new Elise is believed to have a target weight of 900kg, which is a fairly significant bulk over the original S1-model’s featherweight 725kg — although the recently-revealed hardcore Elise Cup 250 weighs 921kg.
Challenges of building such a light car include modern crash-test regulations, which may force the company to make the new Elise wider than the current model to incorporate side airbags and other crash structures.
The design of the new model is likely to be an evolution of the formula from the original car’s look penned by Julian Thompson two decades ago, keeping the Elise’s familiar shape and design elements, such as the quad-circle tail-lights.
Other rumours include the possible switch to power-assisted steering, and the addition of an automatic gearbox — thanks to the brand’s push into the US.
Both the manual and automatic transmissions would be sourced from Toyota, along with the car’s powerplant. Lotus currently employs a reworked Toyota-sourced 1.8-litre four-cylinder in all Elise models — naturally-aspirated and supercharged.
“The Toyota engine isn’t just proven as a great engine for the Elise across a variety of power outputs, it also has tremendous reliability,” Gales said. “We have invested a lot in the [relationship with Toyota] and it is really successful.”
It’s believed the US sales of the larger Evora are mostly autos, which could prompt the brand to bolster its sportscar line-up with self-shifters to cater to a currently untapped market. Gales believes a target of 3000 sales is achievable by 2020, considering the company is expecting to notch up 2000 units in the 12 months from April 2016. “It has been a long time since we have had so many orders in the bank — certainly more than [in the last] 10 years,” he said.
“Demand in Europe is strong and we already have 250 orders for the Evora 400 in the US.”
This latest news of an all-new Elise comes more than five years after former Lotus boss Dany Bahar revealed plans for a new range of Lotus models. Bahar was sacked in 2012, however, and his plans were thrown out with him. It’s unclear if this new Elise will look anything like the concept revealed in 2010 but it is likely Lotus will forge a new direction under design boss Russell Carr — sacked by Bahar in 2009 but returned under Gales in 2014.