The history of Lotus Cars is quite a fabled one. Founded in 1952 by British engineer Colin Chapman, it is arguably one of the most famous names in Formula One racing, having been the chariot for the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna. They have been an active competitor in F1 for 36 years (1958-1994) with 7 constructor champion titles. Lotus’ racing pedigree in F1 is rivaled only by Ferrari, who started racing just a few years earlier. Incidentally, Lotus finally returned to F1 this year after a long hiatus.
Lotus has also been very influential as a consultancy and technology development company for the automotive industry. They were involved with designing the DeLorean DMC-12 (the car from the Back to the Future series), providing suspension design for several manufacturers (remember those “Handling by Lotus” emblems on Isuzus?), and powertrain development (Ecotec engine) for GM. They also provide the chassis and about 40 percent of the components in the Tesla Roadster!
After being owned by GM and the former owner of Bugatti, since 1996 Lotus has been controlled by Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd, also known as Proton, a Malaysian car company.
Most of us know or think of Lotus from a single model, the Esprit, which was produced in several iterations between 1976 to 2004. The body was originally penned by renowned Italian automotive designer Giorgetto Giugiaro with engines ranging from an underpowered 4 cylinder to a turbocharged V8 in its final version. Most of us remember the Esprit from Pretty Woman as well as Basic Instinct, The Rookie, Taking Care of Business and of course, it’s debut in The Spy Who Loved Me. This car was the subject of many posters hanging on the walls of young boys all across the world, who dreamed of owning the British alternative to a Ferrari or Lamborghini.
Ever since the slow demise of the Esprit for the US market in 2003 in the face of tightening US government regulations, Lotus then became a niche manufacturer with the introduction of the super compact sports car the Elise for the US market in 2005, followed by the Exige. These cars were very light, agile, and relatively reliable since they were using Toyota engines. At a price of around $50,000, the Elise and Exige were popular choices for people who wanted a street-legal sportscar to take to the racetrack or the local back roads without breaking the bank.
When we received the invitation to the Lotus launch party for the LA Auto Show last Friday, we didn’t quite know what to expect. However, we knew something had to be brewing when we discovered they hired Harrison & Shriftman for PR, the best in the business. Coincidentally, the day before the party, we ran into our friend Blair Chang, a star residential broker for architecturally significant properties and professional race car driver in the Patron Cup, who asked us if we were attending the Lotus event. It turns out that the party was to be held at a home in Stone Ridge Estates designed by Blair’s business partner Billy Rose.
Words cannot describe the 11,000+ sf architectural tour de force nestled at the top of Mulholland, but the good news is that it is on the market, and can be yours for a paltry $17.5 million. Check out the link here for pictures of the venue.
Anyway we digress. Upon entering the party, it became clear that Lotus has decided to make the bold and costly move of resurrecting and positioning itself as a premier automotive and lifestyle brand, similar to what Ferrari has done over the last 10 years. The party was intimate, exclusive and no expense was spared to entertain the guests, which comprised of some of the most prominent socialites and actors in town. Two separate bars were serving premium liquor and wine, with hors d’ oeuvres by Wolfgang Puck catering. Lotus cars, old and new, were placed across the yard, with a video over the pool showing vintage race videos and the new Lotus models.
As our “plus one,” we decided to bring along our buddy Tom Chan, owner of Lucent Motors in West LA for some colorful insight into Lotus’ new direction. Tom is arguably the most revered exotic car expert in Los Angeles. If you’re into cars, chances are you have heard of his shop or are one of his customers. He specializes in the repair, restoration, and customization of luxury and sporting automobiles including Lotus. In fact, both Tesla and the local Lotus dealers take their cars to be aligned and configured by Tom on his state-of-the-art laser alignment machine, since they do not have those capabilities in-house. As such, Tom is an expert on modern Lotuses and probably works on at least 1 or 2 a week in between attending to a line of Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys or other cars that are queued up in his shop by eager owners who usually wait 2 weeks on average for an appointment.
We at DT, along with Tom, were frankly flabbergasted upon the unveiling of four new Lotus models to be introduced over the next few years. Launching one new model from a manufacturer costs hundreds of millions of dollars between engineering, production, and marketing, but Lotus has overwhelmed us with five cars to look out for! And each one of them breathtakingly gorgeous, especially when compared to the existing Lotus models: the homage to the praying mantis called the Elise and the sedate and mundane design of the Evora.
These new, exciting, and sexy models that were unveiled were the Elite, Elise, Elan, Eterne and of course the revered Esprit. As you can tell by now, Lotus likes to use the letter “E” to name their cars.
Talking about upping the ante! Here are the specs on the new cars, which will be released over the next 5 years:
Esprit (2013). 612 horsepower coming from a 5.0 liter Lexus V8 (from the Lexus IS-F) pressure charged engine (haven’t decided between turbo or supercharger yet) delivering up to 620 PS. About 3300 lbs. and 0-60 in 3.3 seconds to compete with the Porsche Turbo, Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Gallardo. Estimated price starting around $165,000.
Elan (late 2013). 450 horsepower from a 4.0 liter V6 pressure charged engine in a car weighing around 2,850 lbs. Will likely compete with Porsche GT3 or BMW M3 as a lightweight sports car. Estimated price starting around $100,000
Elite (Spring 2014). A 2+2 Grand Tourer with same engine as Esprit, but mounted front and middle delivering up to 612 horsepower, capable of 0–60 in approximately 3.6 seconds. Pricing to be similar to Esprit and will compete with Mercedes CL 65, Maserati Gran Turismo, Ferrari 612 and other 4 seater coupes.
Elise (2015). The replacement for the current Elise features a larger chassis and a 2.0 liter inline 4 forced induction engine delivering up to 316 horsepower and 0-60 in under 4.5 seconds. Estimated pricing around $55,000 to compete with Porsche Boxster/Cayman, Mercedes SLK, BMW 1-series, etc.
Eterne (2015). A four door sedan with the same engine as the Esprit and Elite to compete with the Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide. Pricing around $165,000
One can see a lot of common design elements from the four cars, and we suspect this is because Lotus aims to create different models from a common platform, similar to the design strategy employed by Aston Martin and its “VH architecture“ platform for all of their production cars. The fresh look for the cars was penned by none other than Donato Coco, the former Director of Design and Development for Ferrari who designed the 430 Scuderia and 16M, 599XX and the new 458 Italia. The cars are now larger, use lightweight materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum to reduce weight, and have an exotic look that resembles a Lamborghini or Ferrari.
Another interesting feature is that all models will have a “hybrid” technology option. Unlike other hybrids, however, this system is a derivative of the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) developed for Formula 1 cars. Essentially what this technology does is use the energy used while you hit the brakes and stores it in a power reserve that you can use for a temporary boost in power when you want to pass another car or go a little faster for a few seconds. Think an instant boost button like the “turbo boost” button seen in Knight Rider or the “NOS” button used in The Fast and the Furious, except using your brakes as the energy source. This technology will presumably be developed with Toyota. Finally, a good application for hybrid technology that we can actually use!
Lotus has certainly taken a huge and bold step forward in its quest to compete with the world’s top sports car brands. The refreshing new designs from Coco coupled with Lotus’ philosophy of light weight and state-of-the-art technology will undoubtedly lure customers away from Ferrari, Porsche, and Lamborghini. Ultimately, this has great potential to bring the Lotus brand back to its former F1 glory days and even beyond, to becoming a true automotive lifestyle brand like its arch-rival Ferrari.
Also featured at the show was the exclusive unveiling of seven oversized prints, created by famed award-winning photographer Gérard Rancinan, that chronicle Lotus’ metamorphosis. We also discovered that all four Baldwin brothers were in attendance to witness Lotus’ surprise gift to the Baldwin Foundation. Lotus is a sponsor of the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund, part of the Baldwin Foundation.
As part of the lifestyle initiative, the event showcased the following:
- Launch of the new Lotus Magazine: The inaugural issue features Kate Moss on the cover and lifestyle-driven content including a Great British Icons feature and a retrospective of Lotus “Moments,” such as the role of the brand in James Bond 007 movies
- Launch of a private label product line featuring three separate clothing collections: Lotus Heritage, Lotus Originals and Lotus Performance
- Opening of first brand concept store in London (in tandem with the launch of an E-Commerce site).
Over the years, we have developed lofty expectations of events produced by Harrison and Schriftman, and this one certainly did not disappoint. Perhaps one of the best ways to summarize the impact of this party for Lotus’ brand perception can be summarized in an anecdote. A friend of ours who saw the new Esprit has been struggling since the party to decide whether or not to buy his incoming Ferrari 458 this month or wait for the Esprit instead in 2 years. When asked why, he said that the new Esprit makes him daydream in the same way as when as a kid, he would stare at a poster of a Lotus Esprit 20 years ago.
This launch party kicked off a great start to the new chapter of Lotus, and we are looking forward to the next five years of beautiful high performance cars and the resurrection of a worldwide brand that is synonymous with racing.
Be sure to visit the Lotus booth at the LA Auto Show in Concours Hall and see if you agree with our assessment.
Notable guests: All four Baldwin brothers, William, Daniel, Stephen and Alec, Lotus Group CEO Dany Bahar, Lotus Group Director of Design Donato Coco, Lotus Group VP Gino Rosato, Bob Lutz, Demi Moore, Colleen Bell, Gelila Puck, Chord Overstreet (Glee), Loree Rodkin, Taylor Stein, Blair Chang, Billy Rose, Mary Ta, Tom Chan, Tyson Park, Dani Janssen, Loree Rodkin, William Baldwin, Mary Parent, Lara Shriftman, Liz Keene, Olivia Munn, Michelle Rodriguez, Vanna White (!), Taryn Manning, Peter Gallagher, Nicollette Sheridan, Marissa Sanchez, and Jason Wanamaker.
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