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Late on Tuesday night, Lotus – the small, idiosyncratic British sports car manufacturer – did something rather un-Lotus. 

It launched the Eletre, an all-electric “Hyper SUV” weighing more than two tons and promising to be as helpful on the school run as it is on the track. 

It “is a bold and revolutionary new car, delivering on our commitment to move Lotus into completely new automotive segments as we widen our global appeal and accessibility,” said Matt Windle, Lotus’ Managing Director on the new launch.

The Eletre debuts plenty of new tech for Lotus – though some of it is borrowed from parent company Geely – including autonomous driving, a seriously high-tech interior, improved connectivity, and driver assistance systems. 

But, with this radical departure, is Lotus signalling the death knell for the sportscar and will buyers be tempted away from the likes of Porsche and Tesla?

What Does it Mean to be a Lotus?

“Colin would have loved it,” said Windle of Lotus’ founder, Colin Chapman.

“He was an innovator and he would go with the times. I truly believe this is the right car at the right time. It’s what is needed. It felt like a really edgy decision in 2017 to take this brand electric – but it doesn’t now”

The Eletre is the third car to be unveiled as part of Lotus‘ Vision80 strategy designed to transform the business and get Lotus “delivering results every year.”

Of course, for many, Lotus is the company that produces small, lightweight sportscars and precious else besides. 

“It’s a big change for Lotus, but let’s not beat around the bush here,” continued Windle, “but we need to make Lotus a sustainable business, and if it’s a sustainable business, we can invest in sports cars. 

Lotus Eletre Rear

“It [Lotus] has been bouncing along for the last 20-30 years and the fact that the newest car we had before the Evija [the electric hypercar revealed in 2020] was released in 2008 tells you everything.”

The new Eletre is set to tip the scales at more than 2,000 kg whilst also being more than 5 metres long and 2.2 metres wide – almost exactly the same size as the Lamborghini Urus SUV.

It should boast more than 600 horsepower from the 100+ kWh battery. Top speed should be around 161 mph and it will hit 62 mph from a standstill in less than three seconds. The range could be as high as 373 miles.

Given those statistics, it certainly stands out from the rest of the cars in Lotus’ back catalogue.

Another standout aspect of the Eletre is its autonomous driving capabilities. Lotus remained coy about which autonomous driving level the Eletre can manage but was keen to talk about how the autonomous driving tech can be turned on and off.

“Technology includes… intelligent driving technologies such as the world’s first deployable LiDAR system in a production car,” read a press release.

One LiDAR sensor is mounted at the top of the windscreen whilst another two are located on each side of the front wing. Each door mirror is also replaced by an “Electric Reverse Mirror Display” with three different cameras – one for the rear-view mirror, a second to help create a 360-degree view of the car from above to aid parking, and a third that’s part of the intelligent driving technologies.

These cameras work in tandem with the LiDAR system to deliver autonomous driving capabilities. 

Lotus Eletre Wing Mirror
The Eletre’s camera-based wing mirrors

“We believe that intelligent driving can be combined with a car for the drivers,” said Serino Angelotti, Head of Electronic, Electrical, and Software Integration.

“So the driver will not use it for exciting drives – when you want to drive, you have the best performance SUV ever. But, in a traffic jam or in a situation where you do not want to drive, you don’t have to.”

“We don’t want to talk about levels [of autonomous driving],” he continued. “We have hardware: LiDAR, radar, and camera and software, that offers a 360-degree view around the car – no one else has this technology today in the market.

“We like to talk more about MPI, miles per intervention, more than levels. MPI is a way to measure how good the system is and how much the system will require you to take back control, so this is our KPI – the true KPI.”

“The level of autonomy will be defined by the regulations. I know that in Europe, automated systems are extremely tightly regulated. So, we will do the best we can do in each market according to the regulations.”

While all of the hardware was designed in Hethel, Lotus’ traditional Norfolk base, the software was a more collaborative effort. Angelotti and his team pitched in from Germany, while other development work took place in China. In fact, the Eletre will be the first Lotus to be built away from Hethel – instead, the car will be built at a new site in Wuhan.

“Not everything is done in Germany,” said Angelotti, “it is partly in the UK and in China – so it is a global cooperation.”

In fact, Lotus has big plans for the Eletre in China, beyond just manufacturing.

A Changing Audience

China, of course, is the world’s largest market for electric cars – partly because of the country’s huge population but also due to the number of affordable electric vehicles available to buy.

“I think the market will be split into thirds,” explained Windle. “A third in China, a third in the US, and a third in Europe and the rest of the world. I think it will be popular in China but I don’t think it will be dominated by the Chinese market.”

However, over the last few years, Lotus has managed to sell around 1,500 cars globally. In fact, in January, the company celebrated a 24% sales uplift in 2021 and boasted of records being broken in the Asia-Pacific region, though only ranked tenth in Lotus’ best-performing markets.

Lotus Eletre Interior
The Eletre’s interior

However, the Eletre will be built at the company’s new facility in Wuhan, China. While the company hasn’t shared concrete sales aspirations, the plant will have the capacity to produce 150,000 cars in the coming years.  

“I think it’s going to be a metropolitan car to start with,” continued Windle. “I expect to see quite a lot in London. I mean, the range is fantastic as well but the cost of driving in cities, if you have an EV it brings it down, and shows that you’re environmentally aware.” 

Another consideration for the Eletre was, well, women.  

“The percentage of women at Lotus is going up significantly, which is something I’m working hard on,” explained Windle. 

Lotus Eletre Charge“We had several clinics [with women] in China, Germany, the UK, and the USA,” said Gavan Kershaw, Lotus’ Director for Attributes and Product Integrity. “With owners of what we see as our core competitors, a lot of Teslas, but also why to see why they bought the Model X, how they were coping with the size of the car, things like that. 

“The ladies [sic],” he continued, “loved the design. We showed them sketches and they said it didn’t feel like a purely male car. They loved the idea of it being fully electric – just put it in ‘D’ and go.

“More questions came from the ladies about the parking sensors, the screens, the everyday usability, how do you fit child seats in it, the lift-over height, things like that. They typically didn’t ask about the performance, because they know they don’t have to do 160 mph on Kensington High Street.”

However, while Lotus is looking to appeal to a broader customer base, it isn’t looking to change the way it sells cars – yet. 

“It’s customer demand-driven,” explained Windle. “I think shared ownership and subscriptions are going to come in the future and it is something that’s on our radar. But people still want to own cars.

“The generation behind mine, there are far fewer people buying cars, they want to share – I mean, they’re building conurbations without parking spaces, which is crazy to me – but we’ll see where it goes.”

A New Beginning?

It’s clear that the Lotus Eletre is not a typical car from the Norfolk brand. However, with consumer demands changing and market pressures growing, the company needed to adapt and move with the times.

The Eletre is a bold new step for the company that represents a desire to make Lotus sustainable from a business and environmental point of view. 

“We’ve still got another three cars to reveal,” said Windle, “We’ve got a lot to do and I think getting the products out there and building the brand around the products is the way to go.”

We’ll be watching with interest to see what Lotus does next.

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