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Lotus CEO leans towards SUV - not tech

2015-03-06 11:55

BACK TO BASICS: Group Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales is not preoccupied by the future of self-driving cars. Image: Newspress

GENEVA, Switzerland - One man stood out as auto industry leaders gathered in Geneva this week to fret about how to cram more software and electronics into their vehicles.

Group Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales is not preoccupied by the future of self-driving cars since his customers have no intention of ever surrendering the wheel to a computer - and because the loss-making British sports-car maker's survival is a more imminent concern.

Gales admitted in an interview that while defiantly analogue models such as its newly upgraded Evora flagship may eventually get more digital controls, the priority was a return to Lotus's lean essentials, which means no unnecessary gadgets.

RETURN TO PROFIT

"We had an electronically opening glove box, which in a sports car is worse than useless," he said at the Geneva auto show, barely 10 months after joining Lotus as chief executive. "I don't know who put that in, but I took it out."

Other industry forces are harder to resist. The next all-new Lotus vehicle was likely to be a crossover SUV, Gales said.

Lotus won renown for its aluminium chassis technology that combined stiffness with lightness. It also developed the vehicle architecture used by a generation of Aston Martins but it still lost about R1,2-billion in the last fiscal year.

However it might already be turning a corner under Gales, whose former roles include Volkswagen marketing chief and second in command at Peugeot.

OUTSTANDING HANDLING

A sales network expansion has put Lotus on course for 2000 deliveries in the year ending March 31 2015, Gales said. That's a 62% increase on the previous year but well short of a 3500 goal for 2016-17, when it aims to return to profit.

Priced at about R1,2-million the Evora 400 - denoting the increased horsepower - and a coming roadster variant are key to any comeback in the US where sales have dwindled to 250 a year.

Engineers changed some parts and dropped others to pare 22kg from the Evora while adding a bigger supercharger - a "power up, weight down" approach Gales plans to repeat on the Exige and entry-level Elise.

The model revamps will also cut both input costs and manufacturing time by about 10%, he said.

'VERY FAST' SUV

The board may decide this year to invest in a new four-door model, most likely an SUV, Gales said. Echoing Aston Martin, VW's Bentley and other luxury brands that are cautiously edging into fast-selling premium crossovers, he vowed that Lotus would "reinvent the category" rather than simply join it.

"We'd do an SUV that is very light, very fast on the track, and has outstanding handling," he said.

"I'm a bit torn between an SUV and a four-door sports car - but in the end I can see that the SUV has the bigger market."

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