Lotus Cars is a British manufacturer of sports and racing cars, famous for its Esprit, Elan, Europa and Elise sports cars and for the highly successful Team Lotus in Formula 1. Lotus Cars is based at the former site of RAF Hethel, a World War II airfield in Norfolk. The company designs and builds race and production automobiles of light weight and fine handling characteristics. It also owns the engineering consultancy Lotus Engineering, which has facilities in the United Kingdom, United States, Malaysia and China.
Lotus is owned by DRB Hicom through its subsidiary Proton, which acquired it following the bankruptcy of former owner Romano Artioli in 1996.
The company was formed as Lotus Engineering Ltd. by engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare, both graduates of University College, London, in 1952. The four letters in the middle of the logo stand for the initials of company founder, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman.
The first factory was in old stables behind the Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. Team Lotus, which was split off from Lotus Engineering in 1954, was active and competitive in Formula One racing from 1958 to 1994. The Lotus Group of Companies was formed in 1959. This was made up of Lotus Cars Limited and Lotus Components Limited, which focused on road cars and customer competition car production, respectively. Lotus Components Limited became Lotus Racing Limited in 1971 but the newly renamed entity ceased operation in the same year.
The company moved to a purpose built factory at Cheshunt in 1959 and since 1966 the company has occupied a modern factory and road test facility at Hethel, near Wymondham. This site is the former RAF Hethel base and the test track uses sections of the old runway.
Financial troubles, death of Chapman
By 1980, Group Lotus was in serious financial trouble. Production had dropped from 1,200 units per year to a mere 383. The combined reasons were that the world was in the middle of an economic recession, sales in the key United States market had virtually collapsed and, as none of the original model range had been redesigned or replaced, the cars were seen as boring and technically behind the times by potential customers.
In early 1982, Chapman came to an agreement with Toyota over an exchange on intellectual property and applied expertise. This initially resulted in Lotus Engineering helping to develop the Mk2 Toyota Supra, also known as the Toyota Celica XX. Secondly it allowed Lotus to launch the new Lotus Excel to replace the ageing Lotus Eclat, which using chassis components from the Toyota parts bin enabled the Excel to be sold for £1,109 less than the outgoing Eclat.
Looking to re-enter the North American market, Chapman was approached by young law professor and investment banking consultant, Joe Bianco, who proposed a new and separate United States sales company for Lotus. By creating an unprecedented tax-incentived mechanism (wherein each investor received a specially personalised Lotus Turbo Esprit), the new American company, Lotus Performance Cars Inc. (LPCI), was able to provide fresh capital to the Group Lotus in the United Kingdom. Former Ferrari North America general manager John Spiech was brought in to run LPCI, which imported the remarkable Giugiaro-designed Turbo Esprit for the first time. US sales began to quickly jump into triple digits annually.
Chapman died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 54, having begun life an innkeeper’s son and ended a multi-millionaire industrialist in post-war Britain. At the time of his death, the car maker had built tens of thousands of successful racing and road cars, and won the Formula One World Championship seven times.
At the time of his death, both Chapman and Lotus were linked with the DeLorean Motor Company scandal over the use of UK Government subsidies for the production of the DeLorean DMC-12, for which Lotus had designed the chassis. Chasing large sums of money which had disappeared from the DeLorean company, Lotus was besieged by Inland Revenue inspectors, who imposed an £84 million legal “protective assessment” around the company and all of its assets.
With Group Lotus near bankruptcy in 1983, through an introduction from his friend Mark Thatcher, English accountant and entrepreneur David Wickins, the founder of the worlds largest vehicle remarketing business British Car Auctions, agreed to become the new company chairman. Taking a combined 29% BCA/personal stake in Group Lotus, Wickins negotiated with the Inland Revenue, and then brought in new investors: merchant bank Schroeder-Wagg (14%); Michael Ashcroft, Baron Ashcroft’s Bermudian operating company Benor (14%); Sir Anthony Bamford of JCB (12%). Wickins oversaw a complete turnaround in the companies’ fortunes, which resulted in him being called “The saviour of Lotus”.
However, although having employed designer Peter Stevens to revamp the range and design two new concept cars, by 1985 the British investors recognised that they lacked the required capital to invest in the required new model development to production, and sought to find a major motor manufacturing buyer. In January 1986, Wickins oversaw the majority sale of the Group Lotus companies and 100% of North American–based LPCI to General Motors, with engineer Bob Eaton a big Lotus car fan. After four months of controlling but co-owning Group Lotus with Toyota, the Japanese company sold out to GM. By October 1986, GM had acquired a 91% stake in Group Lotus for £22.7 million, which allowed them to legally force the company buyout.
On 27 August 1993, GM sold the company, for £30 million, to A.C.B.N. Holdings S.A. of Luxembourg, a company controlled by Italian businessman Romano Artioli, who also owned Bugatti Automobili SpA. In 1996, a majority share in Lotus was sold to Proton, a Malaysian car company listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.
Presently organised as Group Lotus plc, it is divided into Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering.
As well as sports car manufacture, the company also acts as an engineering consultancy, providing engineering development—particularly of suspension—for other car manufacturers. Lotus’ powertrain department is responsible for the design and development of the 4-cylinder Ecotec engine found in many of GM’s Vauxhall, Opel, Saab, Chevrolet and Saturn cars. The US Lotus Elise and Exige models used the 1.8L VVTL-i I4 from Toyota’s late Celica GT-S and the Matrix XRS which is no longer available new. The new Exige has the same V6 as the Evora and is not available in US as a road legal vehicle.
Michael Kimberley took over as Acting chief executive officer of the Company and its Group from May 2006. He chaired the Executive Committee of Lotus Group International Limited (“LGIL”) established in February 2006, with Syed Zainal Abidin (managing director of Proton Holdings Berhad) and Badrul Feisal (non-executive director of Proton Holdings Berhad). LGIL is the holding company of Lotus Group Plc.
Kimberley retired as CEO on 17 July 2009, replaced on 1 October 2009 by the former Senior Vice-President for Commercial & Brand at Ferrari, Dany Bahar. Bahar intended to drive the brand up-market into the expanding global luxury goods sector, effectively away from the companies traditional light weight and pure driving experience simplicity.
Bahar was suspended as CEO on 25 May 2012 on a temporary basis, while an investigation into his conduct was undertaken. Lotus announced on 7 June 2012 the termination of Bahar’s employment, and the appointment of Aslam Farikullah as the new chief operating officer.
Formula One & Motorsport
Main articles: Team Lotus and Lotus F1
The company encouraged its customers to race its cars, and entered Formula One through its sister company Team Lotus in 1958. A Lotus Formula One car driven by Stirling Moss won the marque’s first Grand Prix in 1960 at Monaco in a Lotus 18 entered by privateer Rob Walker. Major success came in 1963 with the Lotus 25, which – with Jim Clark driving – won Lotus its first F1 World Constructors Championship. Clark’s untimely death – he crashed a Formula Two Lotus 48 in April 1968 after his rear tyre failed in a turn in Hockenheim – was a severe blow to the team and to Formula One. He was the dominant driver in the dominant car and remains an inseparable part of Lotus’ early years. That year’s championship was won by Clark’s teammate, Graham Hill.
Lotus is credited with making the mid-engined layout popular for IndyCars, developing the first monocoque Formula One chassis, and the integration of the engine and transaxle as chassis components. Lotus was also among the pioneers in Formula One in adding wings and shaping the undersurface of the car to create downforce, as well as the first to move radiators to the sides in the car to aid in aerodynamic performance, and inventing active suspension.
Even after Chapman’s death, until the late 1980s, Lotus continued to be a major player in Formula One. Ayrton Senna drove for the team from 1985 to 1987, winning twice in each year and achieving 17 pole positions. However, by the company’s last Formula One race in 1994, the cars were no longer competitive. Lotus won a total of 79 Grand Prix races. During his lifetime Chapman saw Lotus beat Ferrari as the first team to achieve 50 Grand Prix victories, despite Ferrari having won their first nine years sooner.
Formula One Constructors’ Championships (Drivers’ Championship winner for Lotus)
1963 (Jim Clark)
1965 (Jim Clark)
1968 (Graham Hill)
1970 (Jochen Rindt)
1972 (Emerson Fittipaldi)
1978 (Mario Andretti)
Team Lotus established Classic Team Lotus in 1992, as the Works historic motorsport activity. Classic Team Lotus continues to maintain Lotus F1 cars and run them in the FIA Historic Formula One Championship and it preserves the Team Lotus archive and Works Collection of cars, under the management of Colin Chapman’s son, Clive.
Team Lotus’ participation in Formula One ended at the end of the 1994 season.
The Lotus name returned to Formula One for the 2010 season, when a new Malaysian team called Lotus Racing was awarded an entry. The new team used the Lotus name on licence from Group Lotus, and was unrelated to the original Team Lotus. In September 2010 Group Lotus, with agreement from its parent company Proton, terminated the licence for future seasons as a result of what it called “flagrant and persistent breaches of the licence by the team”. Lotus Racing then announced that it had acquired Team Lotus Ventures Ltd, the company led by former racing driver David Hunt (brother of F1 world champion James Hunt) since 1994 when the original Team Lotus had stopped competing in Formula One, and with it full ownership of the rights of the “Team Lotus” brand and heritage. The team confirmed that it would be known as Team Lotus from 2011 onwards.
In December 2010 Group Lotus announced the creation of Lotus Renault GP, the successor to the Renault F1 team, that contested the 2011 season having purchased a title sponsorship deal with the team with the option to buy shares in the future. The team’s car for that season, the R31, was badged as a Renault, while Team Lotus’s car, the T128, was badged as a Lotus. In May 2011, the British High Court of Justice ruled that Team Lotus could continue to use the “Team Lotus” name, but Group Lotus had sole right to use the “Lotus” name on its own. As a consequence, for 2012 Lotus Renault GP was rebranded as Lotus F1 Team and its cars were badged as Lotuses, while Team Lotus was renamed Caterham F1 Team (after the sports car manufacturer owned by team principal Tony Fernandes) and its cars were badged as Caterhams.
Group Lotus is currently also involved in several other categories of motorsport. It sponsors the KV team in the IndyCar Series, and used to sponsor the ART team in the GP2 and GP3 Series in 2011 & 2012. In 2011, Lotus also returned to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a semi-works effort run by Jetalliance Racing, which fielded two Lotus Evoras. In 2012 they will partner with Engine Developments LTD/John Judd to build a 2.2 Liter Twin Turbocharged V-6 Engine to be used in the Izod Indycar Series. After fielding underpowered and uncompetitive engines in the 2012 Indianapolis 500, in which drivers Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro were black-flagged after ten laps for failing to maintain a competitive pace, Lotus was released from its contract and did not participate in future seasons.
Lotus car models
The Lotus Elise
Current Lotus models include:
Lotus Elise: The Elise started in 1996 and weighed 725 kg (1,598 lb). The current model starts at 901 kg (1,986 lb) and incorporates some engineering innovations, such as an aluminium extrusion frame and a composite body shell. The Elise has also spawned several racing variants, including a limited series called the 340R, which has an open-body design echoing the old Seven. The Elise was introduced into the US, with a Toyota engine, to pass strict US emissions laws. The 1ZZ & 2ZZ Toyota engines used to have a Lotus ECU with their own fuel mapping. The supercharged Lotus Elise S (which replaced the SC model) and limited edition Jim Clark Type 25 Elise editions add a new performance dimension to the Elise range. 0–60 mph acceleration is in 4.3 seconds and 0–100 km/h in 4.6 seconds.
Lotus Exige S: Currently the only Exige on sale is the Exige S with a supercharged engine providing 345 bhp (the same as in the Evora S) from supercharged 3.5-litre V6 .
Lotus Evora: Launched 22 July 2008. Code named Project Eagle during development. A 2+2 sports car with a mid-mounted, transverse 3.5-litre V6 engine. Lotus will provide the Evora S Model (2011) as Rapid Response Vehicles to the Rome and Milan Carabinieri to replace the previous Lamborghini Gallardos. See Lotus webpage
Lotus 2-Eleven: Weighing just 670 kg (1,480 lb) and with 252 bhp (188 kW) the Lotus 2-Eleven can sprint from 0–60 in 3.8 seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph (249 km/h). Intended as a track day car it costs £39,995 but for an additional £1,100 Lotus will make the car fully road legal.
Lotus T125 Exos: Track-only Formula 1 inspired car. 3.5l Cosworth V8, 640 bhp; 25 will be built at $1 million each. To run in the ‘Exos Experience by Lotus’, a club, initiated and operated by Lotus Motorsport, in which a limited number of owner drivers can refine their driving skills and challenge themselves with expert one-to-one advice from former Grand Prix drivers and trainers. Also, previous holder of the fastest Top Gear lap time although it was disqualified for not being able to meet the requirements of getting over a speed bump.