Lotus made its name by producing lightweight sports cars. From the Elan in 1962 which used fiberglass to tip the scales at just 680kg, to the astonishingly successful Elise, the Lotus theme has traditionally been nimble handling rather than brute force. But now that Lotus is becoming an electric brand, that ethos is changing. Hot on the heels of the heavy SUV Eletre, the Emeya Hyper-GT has been launched in the UK. It may have an impeccable sporting pedigree, but as a large sedan is it still a Lotus? I asked Lotus Group VP of Design Ben Payne to explain the new strategy.
“Lotus has evolved as we move into an electric age,” says Payne. “This super-proportional 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 piece for the brand, but we’re still trying wherever possible to make these cars as light as we can. Where possible we use lightweight materials such as carbon fiber and a full aluminum body. It’s about how we expand the brand and bring the Lotus experience to more people. For purists, it’s still a long stretch.”
The Emeya definitely has supercar levels of performance. It will offer up to 905 hp of twin engine power and 985 Nm of torque. This will allow for a 0-62mph sprint of just 2.78 seconds. Lotus didn’t release details on the Emeya’s battery size or range, saying only that it will be broadly the same as the Eletre, which offers up to 373 miles (WLTP). However, charging is available at up to 350kW, allowing 93 miles of range to be added in five minutes, while a 10-80% charge will take 18 minutes. Therefore, Emera will have to meet the GT charge.
“There is some conflict for people, but the other thing we have to look at is making sure we have a fully sustainable business model,” says Payne. “Lotus has always been an amazing brand in terms of product, innovation and level of appeal, but we’ve struggled to get a proper foothold in the market.” Lotus is clearly aiming for a much more mainstream but evolved clientele – hence the new showroom in Mayfair where the UK launch took place.
“The purists within the company are well aligned with the strategic vision that came out of the acquisition of Lotus six years ago,” explains Payne, referring to the purchase of Lotus by Chinese giant Geely, which also owns Volvo. “We are now moving forward to ensure we have a sustainable business. Making lifestyle products is the way to continue to innovate and also drive true performance cars. We should also be very aware that EV technology is developing very fast. It’s offered for larger products right now, but as it progresses, we’ll apply it to lighter, tighter and more focused products in the future.”
Although the new Lotus products are made in China, their design remains very much British. “The full creative process is governed in the UK at Hethel,” says Payne. “This includes the first scratch to de-tooling for the final digital data and anything physical that needs to be seen or touched, even the digital HMI system inside the car. Then we have dynamic engineering and chassis-based technology handled by a team in Germany. The manufacturing engineering and some of the digital capabilities come from a large R&D team in China. But the UK is responsible for creating and maintaining the things associated with the brand’s DNA historically.”
Now that Lotus is part of Geely, it has plenty of platforms to borrow from, but the Emeya will still be a Lotus car. “Some things are taken and adapted,” Payne says. “But there is a unique system or component application for Lotus. Everything is set as we need it for our product and the price is very different. The technology is Lotus first and then you will see this flow to other brands in the future. For example, the LIDAR systems and cameras and autonomous driving aids in this car are unique to Lotus. Nobody else in Britain has that.” 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 pioneered computer-designed aerodynamics but is still focused on improving the analog driving experience. It is a sign of the company’s new goals, which aim for much higher sales volumes. Even the legendary Elise only sold around 35,000 cars in its 25 years of production from 1996 to 2021. Lotus now has an annual target of 150,000 a year. “Our past products are great,” says Payne. “But the volumes weren’t huge. If we want to build a true luxury brand for the future, we need to take what these products stand for and reinvent it for future customers to broaden appeal. That is why you will find a very different experience in this car. Dynamically, it’s still there. But if we continued to make only very stripped-down, lightweight 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 in this transformation. “We have to take people on that journey so they understand that the core values are still there,” Payne says. “This is about the connection between the driver and the machine. The kind of suspension and dynamic capabilities that ensure the car handles fantastically remain. The Emeya is a much larger car than Lotus has built in the past, but for a vehicle in this class it’s still extremely attractive and remarkably accurate. We will use smart systems around aerodynamics to improve capability.”
There are advanced aerodynamic features for 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 with speed, while an active rear spoiler can provide over 215kg of downforce. The air suspension can measure the road 1,000 times a 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 2,640 kg.
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. “A software-defined vehicle doesn’t mean it can’t be extremely engaging and amazing to drive. It’s just different. Lotus is not going to replicate what you had in an ICE car. We have to find a new way to give you that amazing experience that makes you want to drive the car. But you also need to provide all the entertainment and connectivity that customers now demand. These early efforts to expand the brand with new product categories are our best guess. We will take the feedback and develop it for future generations. You’re going to see things get lighter and tighter again, so we can really define what the future of all EV performance classes can be.”
The Emeya enters an increasingly crowded space of fast electric luxury sedans, so what sets it apart from the competition? The Tesla Model S checkeredStraight line speed is hard to beat, after all, and the Porsche Taycan or BMW i5 handle like cars of this size they really shouldn’t. “Emeya’s dynamic capabilities and handling will be a differentiator,” says Payne. “This is also a much larger car inside than a Porsche Taycan, with much more room for rear passengers. We strive to have a high level of dedication to our cars. It’s not so much of what Colin Chapman did in motorsport to translate into a four or five seater, Hyper GT or a large SUV. We want our cars to be the most attractive in these categories. This is the differentiator. If you look at the competition, the other cars won’t be as consistent in offering something highly emotional to see, experience, sit and drive and interact with in the back seats. For this, strong digital technology is essential.”