Proton and Lotus LogoThere are some very interesting things in store ahead for Proton’s Group Lotus, and we had a preview of some of it today. Proton hopes that these list of new happenings for Lotus will be able to turn it into a profitable company within 5 years. Lotus has never made a profit in the decade that it’s been under Proton ownership.

New Management

Proton (and Lotus) Chairman Datuk Mohd Nadzmi Mohd Salleh started with bringing in new management – we saw ex-Ferrari man Dany Bahar appointed as the new CEO of Group Lotus back in October last year.

Dany then brought in a whole list of new employees including Ferrari Director of Design Donato Coco (who was also previously at Citroen before Ferrari), Andreas Schlegel from Aston Martin marketing and network development, Andreas Prillmann who was Director of Sales and Business Development at Ferrari, Robert Hentschel from EDAG USA and Frank Tuch who was Director of Quality Management at Porsche, amongst many other new team members.

We were given a full list of new management credentials and the long list was very impressive. Dany Bahar likened the new Lotus management team to the Real Madrid football team. This is the team that will spearhead Lotus into the next five years. Lotus has big ambitions. Be prepared for a shocker here – it wants to diversify from its current niche market positioning and move into the premium sportscar segment dominated by marques such as Ferrari and Porsche.

New Product Line-Up

By 2015, Lotus wants to be selling cars that cost between 100,000 to 130,000 Euro, with annual sales increased from between the current 2,000 to 2,500 cars a year to as much as 6,000 to 8,000 cars a year. Its new motto – “Tomorrow’s luxury sports car, today.” Lotus currently has presence in 30 markets worldwide, and it wants to add another 25 potential markets to this list.

New Lotus cars will move away from its current manual transmission only and bare necessity lightweight positioning. The cars will go upmarket and become more complex. New Lotus cars will have features such as 7-speed twin clutch transmissions, active aerodynamics, continuously variable dampers, hybrid and range extender systems, heads up displays, and something interesting – the option for alcohol fueling.

We were shown sketches of some upcoming Lotus cars in the presentation today but we were asked not to snap photos of the presentation so I respected that. But they looked pretty aggressive and sporty and there were various bodytypes.

There wasn’t any SUV model in sight though, so no indication of any Lotus APX production car built on the VVA architecture. I believe there will be a Lotus concept car shown at the Paris Motor Show this year, as Lotus PR UK have just sent out a PR release advising us to watch out for something unexpected at Paris.

It’s not to say that Lotus will be leaving behind its roots – I believe that the likes of the Elise will continue to be sold, but these new Lotus cars will fill niches that the company is not currently in, segments filled by products such as the Ferrari 599 and 612 for example. It won’t be easy though. The engines of cars such as Ferrari and Porsche very much influence their character and brand. Lotus do not have their own engine – most if not all are Toyota-sourced.

But I won’t say it’s a bad thing if the screaming V10 from the Lexus LF-A (even if detuned) is used by Lotus in a future Lotus Esprit successor – that wonderful howl should be experienced by more and not just limited to the small number of LF-As around! Wishful thinking aside, there are many other engines from Toyota’s Lexus stable that Lotus could use, such as the numerous front longitudinally mounted rear wheel drive V8 engines used in the IS-F, the GS and the LS.

There was also word in the past that the upcoming Esprit would be receiving a BMW engine – the twin turbocharged 4.4 litre V8 in particular. That engine’s output is able to challenge the Ferraris and Porsches that we’re talking about competing with. BMW is not closed to offering the use of its engines in other maker’s products – it supplies a 6-potter turbodiesel to Carbon Motors for their police car, Morgan uses BMW engines in its cars, and the legendary McLaren F1 also had BMW power.

Lotus Cars’ very own Aston Martin Cygnet?

There’s also something interesting in the works – apparently Lotus will also have its own version of the Proton EMAS concept by Giugiaro. At its Geneva unveiling, the EMAS already had a Lotus Range Extender engine fitted in it, or at least that’s what the spec sheet said. Proton and Lotus unveiled today a plan to jointly develop and sell the Proton EMAS.

The Proton version will be sold in Asia and the Middle East and will feature a 5-door hatchback body, while Lotus will sell a 3-door sports city car globally. Both Proton and Lotus models will feature similar combustion engine and/or hybrid powertrains and will essentially feature the same mechanical underpinnings, however there will be a high level of exterior and interior differentiation. The Proton will be a Proton and the Lotus will be a Lotus.

Lotus Engineering

Lotus is more than just cars of course. You also have Lotus Engineering, an engineering firm that competes with the likes of EDAG, LG CNS, Magna Steyr and etc. Even though Proton owns Lotus Engineering, they admit that they haven’t been working that closely with them to use their engineering expertise for Proton cars so far in the decade of ownership. The two companies plan to change this from now on. Thus far, projects awarded to Lotus by Proton has always been on an ad hoc basis only and total projects awarded to Lotus by Proton in the past decade have only totaled up to 95 million British Pounds so we can expect this to increase in the future.

Lotus Engineering is also collaborating with automotive and engine component company Fagor Ederlan to put the 1.2 litre three-cylinder Lotus Range Extender engine into production. They have just completed a joint technical and market study and have decided on the best way to start production for the engine. The engine has been designed specifically for range extender usage – it is tuned for making a certain amount of power at certain RPM thus is designed to be coupled to a Range Extender’s power generator and not to a gearbox.

This is the big picture of the Lotus 5-year plan and we were told that Proton and Lotus management would be “locking themselves up in a room” over the next 2 days to have continuous brainstorming meetings. No doubt there will be coffee and perhaps currypuffs to fuel their thoughts so here’s a toast of Ipoh White Coffee to the future of Lotus and we eagerly await to see what Lotus unveils at this year’s Paris Motorshow!