Lotus: bye old favourites, hello new era
It is an exciting time for British sports car icon Lotus. Last year it took the wraps off its electric hypercar, the Evija, wielding massive power and introducing a new design language for the company.
The new Emira was revealed to great acclaim earlier this year and as confirmed by SA distributor, Daytona, it will be coming to the local market in 2022. Also in the works is a full-electric sport-utility vehicle, set to be revealed soon.
To make way for the next generation of models, the brand put to pasture three of its long-standing offerings this week, as the last of the Elise, Exige and Evora units emerged from their manufacturing facility.
The trio were photographed on site with many of the Lotus team who contributed to the design, engineering, assembly and sales of the cars. Between these three model lines and over the course of 26 years, 51,738 cars have come off the production line.
Combined, they represent almost half of the total production of Lotus in its 73-year history. In addition, 9,715 sports cars were built for Lotus’ third-party clients, including General Motors and Tesla.
From 1996 to 2000, the first-generation Elise and Exige sports cars were built in a small assembly hall at Hethel alongside the Lotus Esprit. The current assembly lines, which were installed in 2000, will be dismantled and replaced with new state-of-the-art facilities in support of the new Emira factory.
Full Emira production will commence after the prototype and test phases, now under way, are completed, taking Lotus sports car production into a semi-automated era, increasing capacity up to 5,000 units per year on a single shift pattern.
The last examples of the Elise, Exige and Evora models are reserved for Lotus’ growing heritage collection. Joining the collection will be the last Elise, a Sport 240 Final Edition finished in Yellow and the last of 35,124 cars; the last Exige, a Cup 430 Final Edition in Heritage Racing Green — number 10,497; and the last Evora — a GT430 Sport finished in Dark Metallic Grey — the last of a production run of 6,117.
The Elise and Exige sports cars are built around the Lotus “small car platform”. On the same platform, and also manufactured by Lotus at Hethel, were the Opel Speedster and Vauxhall VX220 (7,200 cars built between 2000 and 2005) and the Tesla Roadster (2,515 cars built between 2007 and 2012). Including the Lotus 340R, Europa, 2-Eleven and 3-Eleven cars, this brings the total Lotus small car platform production volumes to 56,618 cars.
“As we say farewell to the last few cars, we look forward to the Emira and Evija in the all-new factories at Hethel and sub-assembly facilities in Norwich, which introduce greater efficiencies and automation, higher quality and flexibility,” said MD Matt Windle.
Director of vehicle attributes, Gavan Kershaw, said the Evora was a particularly important model for the firm, as it proved that high performance and exceptional handling could coexist with long-journey ability.
“I have first-hand experience of this as I won the British GT4 championships in one, and I will never forget leading the technical programme for our Evora Le Mans campaign where we achieved a podium,” he said.
Meanwhile, design director Russell Carr promised that the best is yet to come. “We will miss them, but a bit like Christmas, once it’s over, the excitement for the next one starts to build — and that’s what’s happening now at Lotus.”
Head of vehicle concepts, Richard Rackham, was architect on the Lotus Elise and part of the team that pioneered extruded and bonded aluminium technology in the automotive production. He said the former trio will be remembered for setting standards from technical, structural and dynamic perspectives.
“If you had asked me of my proudest moment four years ago, I would have, without hesitation, said the Elise chassis — however, this has been usurped by our new Project LEVA architecture for our new range of electric sports cars, starting with the Type 135 in a few years’ time,” Rackham concluded.