Lotus made its name producing low weight sportscars. From the Elan in 1962 that used fiberglass to tip the scales at only 680kg, to the phenomenally successful Elise, the Lotus theme has traditionally been nimble handling rather than brute power. But now that Lotus is becoming an electric brand, this ethos is changing. Hot on the heels of the hefty Eletre SUV, the Emeya Hyper-GT has been launched in the UK. It may have an impeccable sports pedigree, but as a large sedan, is it still a Lotus? I asked Lotus Group’s Vice President of Design Ben Payne to explain the new strategy.
“Lotus has evolved as we move into an era of electrification,” says Payne. “That super analogue light weight is difficult to translate into future EV products. What we’re trying to do with the electric SUV and now the Emeya is a big stretch for the brand, but we are still trying where possible to make these cars as light as we can. Where possible we use lightweight materials, including carbon fiber and a full aluminum body. It’s about how we broaden the brand and bring the Lotus experience to more people. For the purists, it’s still a big stretch.”
The Emeya certainly has supercar levels of performance on tap. It will offer up to 905hp dual motor power and 985Nm of torque. This will enable a 0-62mph sprint speed of just 2.78 seconds. Lotus hasn’t released details of the Emeya’s battery size or range, merely saying this will be broadly like the Eletre, which offers up to 373 miles (WLTP). However, charging is available at up to 350kW, enabling 93 miles of range to be added in five minutes, while a 10-80% charge will take 18 minutes. So the Emera should fulfil its GT billing.
“There’s some conflict there for people but the other thing we must consider is making sure we’ve got a fully sustainable business model,” says Payne. “Lotus has always been an amazing brand in terms of the product, the innovation, and the level of appeal, but we struggled to achieve a proper market foothold.” Lotus is clearly aiming for a much more mainstream but upmarket clientele – hence the new showroom in Mayfair where the UK launch took place.
“Purists inside the company are well aligned with the strategic vision that came from the acquisition of Lotus six years ago,” explains Payne, referring to Lotus’s purchase by huge Chinese company Geely, which also owns Volvo. “Now we’re moving forward to make sure that we have a sustainable business. Doing lifestyle products is the way to continue to innovate and drive true performance cars as well. We must also be very cognizant that EV technology is developing very quickly. It lends itself to larger products right now, but as it advances, we will then apply that to lighter, tighter, and more focused products in the future.”
Although the new Lotus products are manufactured in China, the design is very much still British. “The full creative process is governed in the UK in Hethel,” says Payne. “This includes first scratch right through to tooling sign off for the final digital data, and anything physical that needs to be seen or touched, even the HMI digital system inside the car. We then have dynamics engineering and chassis-based technology that’s dealt with by a team in Germany. Manufacturing engineering and some of the digital capability come from a large R&D team in China. But the UK is responsible for creation and keeping things linked back to the DNA of the brand historically.”
Now that Lotus is part of Geely, it has a wealth of platforms to borrow from, but the Emeya will still be very much a Lotus car. “Some things are taken and adapted,” says Payne. “But there’s a unique application of a system or component for Lotus. Everything is tuned the way that we need it to be for our product and the price point is very different. The technology is Lotus first and then you’ll see that trickle into other brands in the future. For example, the LIDAR systems and cameras and the autonomous driving aids on this car are unique to Lotus. Nobody else in Britain has those.” The Emeya will be equipped with two NVIDIA DRIVE Orin computing systems and 34 sensors, including four LiDARs, 18 radars, seven 8Mpixel cameras and five 2Mpixel cameras. This will provide a wealth of safety and self-driving capabilities.
The focus on driver technology is a major shift for Lotus, which may have been a pioneer of computer-designed aerodynamics, but still focused towards enhancing an analog driving experience. It’s a sign of the new goals of the company, aimed at much greater sales volumes. Even the legendary Elise only sold around 35,000 cars across its 25 years of manufacturing from 1996 to 2021. Lotus now has an annual target of 150,000 a year. “Our products of the past are wonderful,” says Payne. “But the volumes were not vast. If we want to make a genuine luxury brand for the future, we’ve got to take on what those products represent and reinvent that for future customers to broaden the appeal. So that’s why you’ll find a very different experience in this car. Dynamically, it’s still there. But if we carried on only making very stripped out lightweight performance products, then market share would be unlikely to grow from what we achieved before.”
The problem will be bringing the Lotus fan base with them on this transformation. “We’ve got to take people on that journey, so they understand that the core values are still there,” says Payne. “This is about the connection between the driver and the machine. The kind of suspension and dynamic capabilities that make sure the car handles fantastically remain. The Emeya is a much larger car than what Lotus made in the past but for a vehicle in that category it’s still super engaging and feels ultra precise. We’re going to use intelligent systems around the aerodynamics to enhance the capability.”
There are advanced aerodynamic features to smooth airflow, including an active front grille, which can be closed to reduce drag or opened to cool the batteries and brakes. An active air dam increases downforce at speed, while an active rear spoiler can provide over 215kg of downforce. The air suspension can measure the road 1,000 times per second and react accordingly. Lotus claims these technologies will ensure the Emeya is dynamically excellent. But this is still a huge car, like the Eletre, which weighs up to 2,640kg.
That’s a far cry from a 680kg Elan, but now software is central to creating an enjoyable driving experience. “Everything is different for an EV future,” says Payne. “The software defined vehicle doesn’t mean it can’t be super engaging and amazing to drive. It’s just different. Lotus is not going to replicate what you had in an ICE car. We must find a new way to give you that amazing experience that makes you want to drive the car. But you’ve also got to provide all the infotainment and the connectivity that customers now demand. These first forays into stretching the brand with new product categories are our best guess. We’ll be taking the feedback and developing that for future generations. You’ll see things becoming lighter and tighter again so we can really define what the future of all EV performance categories can be.”
The Emeya enters an increasingly crowded space of fast electric luxury sedans, so what makes it competitively different? The Tesla Model S Plaid’s straight-line speed is hard to beat, after all, and the Porsche Taycan or BMW i5 handle like cars that size really shouldn’t. “The dynamic capabilities and handling of the Emeya will be a differentiating factor,” says Payne. “This is also a much larger car inside than a Porsche Taycan, with much more space for rear passengers. We’re trying to get a high level of engagement into our cars. It’s not such a stretch from what Colin Chapman did in motorsport to translate into a four or five seat, Hyper GT or a large SUV. We want our cars to be the most engaging in those segments. That’s the differentiator. If you look at the competition, other cars won’t be quite as coherent in delivering something super emotional to look at, to experience, to sit in and to drive and interact with in the rear seats. For this, strong digital technology is essential.”
Get the best of Forbes to your inbox with the latest insights from experts across the globe.
I am the editor of independent electric vehicle website WhichEV. I have 30 years’ experience as a technology journalist and a life-long love of cars, so having the two come together has been a dream come true. I first saw the potential for electric vehicles when I became one of the first people to drive a Nissan Leaf back in 2011. I love how automotive design and gadgetry combine in EVs, making them both fun and technically fascinating at the same time. They also have a huge amount to contribute to tackling climate change as well as metropolitan pollution. Alongside being editor of WhichEV, I am Pathway Director of the Master’s in Interactive Journalism at City, University of London. I have a PhD in the philosophy of communications and play the trumpet, once recording a session with Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker.
Read MoreRead Less