Auto blogWed, 19 Nov 2014 13:22:00 EST
With the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix now just ten days away, the focus is beginning to shift to next year's Formula One World Championship, with more and more pieces to the puzzle falling into place. And the latest news comes from the Lotus team. The Enstone-based outfit has confirmed that it's keeping both its drivers right where they are for next season, with Romain Grosjean partnering Pastor Maldonado once again.
Swiss driver Grosjean, now 28 years old, made his grand prix debut with the team in 2009, returned as test driver in 2011 while winning the GP2 title, returned to the F1 grid in 2012 and has been driving for the team ever since. He's scored nine podium finishes to date, but has finished no better than his eighth place this season.
Venezuelan pilot Maldonado, 29, won the GP2 the year before his teammate, and moved up to F1 with Williams, for whom he drove for three seasons before switching to Lotus for this one. He shocked the field when he won the Spanish Grand Prix in 2012, but has only finished in the points once this season.
A vehicle as light and agile as the Lotus Exige is all about driver involvement, but those enticed by the nimble sports car's handling and performance who aren't keen on working a stick shift now have another option at their disposal.
Lotus has just announced the availability of an automatic transmission on both the Exige S and Exige S Roadster. For an extra couple thousand euros or pounds sterling, customers will now be able to order a six-speed automatic transmission. The two-pedal setup includes paddle shifters and Sport or Race modes that optimize shifting for "a more spirited drive."
Equipped with the slushbox, the Exige S Automatic is just as quick around Lotus' famous factory test track in Hethel, and even pips the manual version's 0-62 time by 0.1 second, now down to 3.9. Unfortunately, since the Exige isn't available Stateside anymore, however, American buyers can't get their hands on either version.
There's been a changing of the guard at Lotus recently. The legendary British sports car manufacturer fired its controversial chief executive Dany Bahar and replaced him recently with Jean-Marc Gales. And now it's named a new chief designer. Or rather, renamed its old one to the post.
That designer is the appropriately named Russell Carr, who had previously held the post until Bahar brought in his former compatriot Donato Coco (with whom he had previously served at Ferrari) and charged him with designing a series of ambitious but ill-fated concept cars that debuted at the 2010 Paris Motor Show and were subsequently axed on Bahar's way out. Now Coco has been shown the door as well, effective at the end of this month. In his place, Carr - who has been with Lotus since 1990 - has been given back his old job after having been demoted to playing second fiddle to Coco for five years.
Although both Gales and Coco both served in senior positions at PSA Peugeot Citroën, Gales didn't join the French automaker until 2009 - the same year that Coco joined Lotus, five years after having left PSA to work at Ferrari.
Thu, 25 Sep 2014 14:16:00 EST
"We are delighted to open our doors to customers so that they can collect their new car from us direct." - Jean-Marc Gales
Buying a Lotus sports car now comes with an added perk - you get a peek behind the curtain at the famous factory in Hethel, England.
It's not been a great week for Lotus. Seven days ago, the UK-based automaker laid off a quarter of its workforce, terminating "up to 325 jobs." And then, just a few days ago, it was reported that the company would be ending US sales of its well-received Evora due to the expiration of an airbag exemption. The Evora is the only vehicle Lotus sells in the US, meaning its end effectively removes the brand from the market.
That was apparently a bridge too far, though, as the company has issued defiant statement, claiming it'll be back, in both the US and Canada, for model year 2016, with an air-bag compliant Evora.
"I know that this will be welcome news to our thousands of owners and fans in North America, but the reality is that there was never any intention to leave. The North American market is vitally important for us and we intend to expand our dealer network and grow our sales volumes in the future," Jean-Marc Gales, CEO of Group Lotus said in a statement. "I would like to thank our fantastic Lotus following for their support over the years and remind them that we are working on many exciting products for the future. We will continue to explore our core values on how to make a sports car better by making it faster, lighter and maintain the pure driving experience."
It's been three years now since Lotus stopped selling the Elise and Exige in North America, leaving the Evora as its only model available Stateside. But according to the latest from Car and Driver, even that model is on its way out.
The problem reportedly comes down to air bags. Lotus was granted a temporary exemption from fitting the latest-generation smart airbags to the Evora, but that exemption is set to expire at the end of the year. And once it does, Lotus apparently has no intention of developing and fitting the proper equipment to allow it to continue selling the Evora in the United States.
Once the Evora is gone from our market, Lotus will be reduced to selling only track-bound versions of the Elise and Exige in the US, so the prospect of actually buying a new Lotus and driving off the dealer lot will vanish into thin air.
Lotus has issued a press release to day, wherein it indicates that a "need to both reshape its organisation and to reduce costs" may result in the loss of "up to 325" jobs. That's a fairly significant number of layoffs for any company, but considering that Lotus currently employs 1,215 people (per the company's bio in the same release), it could mean a full 25-percent of the automaker's workers could soon be sharpening their resumes.
CEO Jean-Marc Gales says in the statement that Lotus has "worked very hard to avoid the need to make this proposal," but admits that it is now "essential" to the future of the company. The chief indicates that post-restructuring, he expects Lotus to be a "leaner" and "more competitive" organization, one which - and we can all see a little silver lining here - is focused on "producing class-leading sports cars and innovative engineering."
The 325-job number appears to be soft at this point, with the statement indicating that some negotiation about which and how many posts will be cut is yet to come. Further, the company may "redeploy" some employees, and may even recruit new blood for "key roles," all with an eye toward running the strongest possible team going forward. Though, we imagine that the recruitment bit won't fly well for those employees getting the sack.
Head on over to the Lotus website, and though the Elise isn't offered in the United States anymore, buyers in other markets can choose between numerous models: there's the base Elise, the Elise Club Racer, the Elise S and the Elise S Club Racer, and that's before even getting into the even more extreme Exige that's also based on the Elise. Track-day enthusiasts can also go for the full-on Elise S Cup R, but now the British sportscar manufacturer has confirmed a new variant.
Called the Elise S Cup, it slots in between the CR and the Cup R as an extreme performance model that can actually be driven to the track and back home on public roads. The S designation tells us it packs the 1.8-liter supercharged four that already produces 217 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque in the existing Elise S, Elise S CR and Elise S Cup R, but as we saw when Lotus was testing the new variant around the Nürburgring, the Elise S Cup packs some key upgrades.
It's got an aero kit - including front splitter, winglets, side skirts, rear diffuser and rear wing - that's more aggressive than other road-going models (though apparently less extreme than the track-focused S Cup R), helping to generate 145 lbs of downforce at 100 mph and 275 lbs at top speed and besting the Elise S around the Lotus test track by an impressive three seconds.
These days most of the news out of Lotus comes when it releases a lighter or faster version of the Elise, Exige or Evora. However, the stripped-out, Elise-based 340R might already show the logical conclusion of that concept, despite coming out in 2000. Now, one of the 340 made is up for auction on eBay Motors, and the seller in Fort Lauderdale, FL, claims that it's the only street-legal example available in the US.
Lotus founder Colin Chapman always had an obsession with making his vehicles as light as possible, and the 340R adhered to that adage about as closely as a street car could in 2000. These minimalist roadsters eschewed opening doors, windows and a roof in the pursuit of cutting the fat off the brand's hardly portly Elise. The company's engineers also trimmed away the fenders to give their creation a semi-open wheel design that looked as wild when new as today. For the interior, they installed two racing buckets, and the most of the rest was left in bare metal, including the pedals. All of the changes reportedly brought the 340R down to around 1,545 pounds.
Power comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with a five-speed manual gearbox. The 340R is available with 177 horsepower or a tuned 187-hp version from that mill, but the seller doesn't specify which one this is. It's still a pretty fresh car, though, with just 3,577 miles claimed on the odometer.
Lotus has been in limbo in recent years. After former CEO Dany Bahar revealed his plans to build six new models, its parent company was sold, Bahar was sacked, his plans were canceled and a new CEO was hired in the form of former Peugeot chief Jean-Marc Gales. The industry has been waiting ever since to find out what Gales would do with the storied marque, and now we seem to have some indication.
Reports coming in from Malaysia indicate that Jean-Marc presented to the board of parent company Proton a plan for Lotus to build a new sedan and crossover. Though details are scarce, and may seem downright blasphemous for an automaker that built is reputation on lightweight sports cars, it would not be the first time that the House that Colin Built has toyed with either idea.
The company presented the APX crossover concept at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show, and the Eterne sedan concept as part of Bahar's far-reaching plans at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. The new plans may use these concepts as starting points or could go another direction entirely.