PARIS: Lotus reinvents itself for a new type of customer

Lotus surprised attendees at the Paris show today by unveiling not one, but five new models, rather overshadowing the Lotus Evora S and Evora Auto which also made their debut at the show. Four out of the five cars are completely new models (Elite, Elan, Esprit and Eterne) whilst Lotus also displayed a redesigned Elise, due to reach production in 2015. By then the Lotus Brand will be unrecognisable from today, with prices substantially higher and very different customer profile.

Lotus also unveiled a new Compact City Car with a plug-in electric drivetrain backed up by a 1.2-litre range-extending petrol engine. It will do 35 miles on its electric power source, extending up to 200 miles once the petrol engine comes into use. This is due to reach the market in 2014.

Lotus MD Dany Bahar, who has been in his role for just over a year, explained to the BBC this morning that “This is not just about the cars, it’s about the complete remake of the brand,” he went on to add that he expects sales volumes to double from about 3,000 today to between 6,000 and 8,000 cars per year, and with prices of the Esprit starting at £110,000+ and the Elan – £75,000+, this represents a significant shift for the brand from its typical £30,000 – £40,000 price bracket and could result in a tripling of revenue for Lotus if all goes to plan.

From the news today it is as yet unclear what this means for the current Evora, Europa and Exige models but clearly the downside of today’s announcement is the intention signalled by Lotus to move away from its current customers, winning conquest sales from Porsche, Aston Martin and Ferrari.

[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes” align=”right”]This is not just about the cars, it’s about the complete remake of the brand.[/blockquote]

The new Elan is positioned above the relaunched Elise (and we assume the Evora, if that still has a place in the range), which My Bahar describes as likely to “keep our current customers happy”. Hmm, I wonder if he really understands the typical Lotus customer?

Another consequence of this new model strategy is the impact it is likely to have on the current network of Lotus franchised dealers – most will be ill-equipped to provide the type of service expected by a customer spending £100,000+ and will surely be unable to make the necessary investment to upgrade their premises. So, we’re likely to see a wholesale culling of Lotus dealers in the near future, and as many (current) Lotus owners will attest, the dealer relationship is often part of the ownership experience they currently enjoy.

This could well be the biggest gamble in Lotus’ history – it has survived through the past decade due to the loyalty and support of Elise and Exige buyers (many of whom buy several cars) and it’s these customers who are most likely to feel left in the cold by Lotus’ new strategy. We wonder if they’ve truly thought this through.

And whilst we are expressing our reservations about Lotus’ new strategy, was it really wise to launch 5 cars on the same day? Communication is a two way process and as any marketer knows you cannot force-feed the market, especially with such a radical change. There’s a lot to take in (all at once) and perhaps we all need a little time to digest these changes and then review each car on its own merits.

For the record, our initial reaction is that the Elan looks promising although expensive, the Esprit should be stunning to drive although why is it 100kg heavier than a Gallardo? The new Elise looks set to polarise opinions and we expect few current Elise owners to greet it warmly. We saw the Elite a few weeks ago but it’s the 4-seat Eterne that looks like being the most desirable, especially when compared to Porsche’s Panamera and Aston’s Rapide.

How weird is that to find a sports-saloon to be the highlight of the new Lotus range? But then it’s been a weird day for Lotus.

  • jbtco

    Perhaps Caterham can take over the current Elise to expand its base and stay in touch with existing Lotus customers as my initial impression is that Lotus doesn’t seem to want to.

    • Agreed. Anyone who’s ever owned a Lotus will know what a massive and enthusiastic fan base there is who support the brand, but this fan base are not your typical Ferrari owner-type, they’re a down-to-earth driver oriented bunch of enthusiasts who have propped up the Lotus brand for more than a decade.

      Many of them are ‘multiple’ Elise and Exige buyers, determined to support their favourite marque in the hope of seeing it grow and become a force to be reckoned with in the sports car sector again.

      The new Elise looks like a savage re-interpretation of the Elise in the way one might expect Toyota to approach the challenge and I cannot imagine there’ll be much love for it amongst the core fan base.

      Maybe we’ll come around as more information is provided and we can see a ‘real’ car in motion rather than the animated demos currently showing on the Lotus channel on SkiddPlayer, otherwise I foresee a bumpy ride for the Norfolk specialist..

  • Ian Hannaford

    As a long term Lotus fan, owner and marketer [awarded top sales target in ’78 and a gold Cartier pen for my efforts] also was involved in trying to help David Hunt resurrect Team Lotus I think I have an experience to comment. 5 models at one go what are they thinking? They have not the infrastructure on staff or platform at Hethel no way. I love the Evora and will have one as a replacement to my beloved Excel, but this new range dumps all the long term fast small light is best supporters for a ‘me too’ 4/5/6 litre V8 range when we are in a markets which would have appeal for small fast light fuel efficient which was always CABC’s approach.

    Too much too soon is my feeling – a light 2 seater, a 2+2 then a 4 seater Ok

    But so many 2 seaters + the Evora + more 2+2’s seems to me more like a coke fuelled designer’s meeting that got copied into reality.

    Next they will launch a de lorean for the 2011 market!

    • I completely agree with you Ian. What with the spat between Proton/Group Lotus and Lotus Racing, then this pipe dream from Paris I almost wonder whether I’ve woken up in some parallel universe. I’ve worked with a few (much larger) manufacturers over the past few decades (although granted not in the automotive sector), and one of the key challenges was always the productionisation of new designs – developing the kind of just-in-time supply processes that minimised stock and parts redundancy, establishing production lines capable of producing products to consistent tolerances and high quality standards – it’s a process that takes time, resources and the sort of capabilities that Lotus are unlikely to currently possess. So, if these are new capabilities then there is also a bedding in period to develop and integrate these into their organisation.Perhaps Lotus have already spent the past 24 months in preparation, if so I look forward to being proven wrong, somehow I doubt it though.As you say, Lotus have survived the past 15 years producing light-weight, relatively ‘simple’ cars that play to their core-competence, now they intend to produce complex, relatively heavy, luxury cars serving a different market and requiring many new skills. And reaching world-class standards within 4 years with an investment of less than £1billion.I love to see ambition, but I fear this goes well beyond that.