Possibly the biggest bit of news in the automotive media this week, is the story that Lotus plans to build an SUV model. In China. Some enthusiasts are up in arms about it, but does it really matter?
There seems to be two distinctive camps in the Lotus SUV debate. On one hand are the die-hard purists, who believe the Norfolk firm should produce nothing but lightweight sports cars, embodying the principles of founder Colin Chapman. On the other hand are those who accept Lotus needs to diversify in order to survive. Are the two concepts mutually exclusive, or is it possible to have your cake and eat it?
Porsche is the prime example of a sporty marque that has made the SUV idea work. It seems quite hard to believe that it’s 13 years since the introduction of the original Cayenne, a vehicle now into its second generation of production. There are entire generations of children out there who could believe Porsche have always made 4x4s. The Cayenne was of course joined by the smaller Macan last year, which is actually more crossover than full-fat SUV.
Has this destroyed the Porsche brand? The fact the Cayman GT4 sold out almost instantly would suggest not. That the interest around the 911 GT3 RS bordered on insane would also counter that argument, too. Oh, and that Porsche delivered 51,100 new cars in January to March this year alone, with a revenue of €5.08 billion, pretty much knocks the dissenters out of the water. Compared to a company 15 years ago that was stuck with just two cars – 911 and Boxster – and an uncertain future, Porsche is now a huge success story. SUV models like the Macan are credited with this; the brand would never have survived just making sports cars with engines in the wrong place.
Lotus choosing to produce the SUV model in China is also telling, and an acknowledgment of just how vitally important the country is for any manufacturer. With an ever-growing middle-class, China is pushing the profits of already huge companies even further. Apple has seen a 70% increase in iPhone sales in the country in the last year alone, due to the ever-expanding disposable income of the wealthy. Lotus would therefore seem to be tapping into this potential now, in order to sustain itself for the long haul.
Does this mean the end of the Lotus brand as we know it? If the Porsche ‘model’ is anything to go by, probably not. It should hopefully provide much needed income to push the engineering potential at Lotus forward to new ideas. This is preferable than the marque continuing to just find ways to extract variants from the same Elise platform as it has done for two decades almost, Evora excepted.
With Lotus there is always some degree of cynicism, however, when plans for the future are mooted. Some five years ago Dany Bahar gave us the promises of five new models, all of which were subsequently cancelled. Hopefully this SUV adventure will be more successful, both in sustaining the finances of the firm, and staying true to the brand. We’ll see in 2019.