Lotus goes on a drive to win more diehard fans
British sports car brand associated with 007 – and more recently with ‘Red 2’ – is on a mission to expand into China
The related luxury car market in China is booming. Launching its new Cadillac range recently, General Motors announced its ambitions to seize possession of 10 per cent of the market by 2020. Last year GM and its joint ventures sold a record 2.8 million vehicles in China, up 11.3 per cent on the previous year, and its strategy now is to introduce more than 10 new or upgraded products each year until 2016. Other brands – BMW, Audi and Mercedes among them – are also performing well. This is the scale against which Lotus and its relatively small production rate must compete. Or not.
“Selling cars into China is very complicated; there is a lot of regulation, and for a small company it can be quite prohibitive. But DRB-Hicom have acquired the distributor to shorten that process,” says Tompsett.
Is there not a concern, however, that Lotus will be unable to protect iself from the threat of the sports car behemoths? Porsche sold more than 25,000 cars in the US alone in the year to August.
“There is always that threat; when you are a small business you are always vulnerable to that sort of thing. Why we are successful, why we are still around is because we plug a niche in the market, and what we do they are not necessarily doing. There are overlaps for sure, and they could see us as a threat and want to take us over, but I think there is so much love for Lotus that they would meet such a backlash from sports car fans.”
For now the company’s direction is to make its existing product range as versatile as possible, with the introduction of new variants to “engage a wider audience”. But there is more to Lotus than Lotuses. The company includes both Lotus Cars, the producer, and Lotus Engineering, which sells expertise and technology to third-party companies (it currently has 120 contracts, including Lotus Cars).
Small-scale production is an essential tool in demonstrating a wider capability – particularly the development of hybrid technology, weight reduction programmes and alternative powertrains.
“They go hand in hand; in order to demonstrate our engineering capabilities we need to be players in the marketplace ourselves,” says Tompsett. “The same goes for motorsport: in order to be a credible sports car manufacturer, you need to be competitive in a sports context. So it’s the same relationship.”