Is a Lotus SUV a Good Idea?
Even before its days as the car of choice for James Bond’s friends at MI6 to turn into a submarine, Lotus has been famous for making sports cars. Colin Chapman, Lotus’s founder, was committed to building simple, light cars that handled better than anything in their class. Sadly, keeping a company afloat while only making sports cars is getting harder and harder. Even Porsche has been forced to expand its lineup to include two SUVs and a sedan. Faced with the same dilemma, Automotive News reports that Lotus will soon be expanding its lineup, adding either a sedan or SUV.
After plans for a massive expansion were scrapped following the ousting of former CEO Dany Bahar, Lotus has struggled to recover. Even though it’s been more than two years since Bahar was dismissed, installing a new CEO and finding the right direction to take the company in is a process that doesn’t happen quickly. The impact has been serious, with Lotus losing more than $100 million last year. New CEO Jean-Marc Gales has the experience to turn the company around, though, coming to Lotus as Volkswagen’s former chief of marketing.
While Bahar tried to change the brand and move it upmarket to compete with the likes of Ferrari, Gales is intent on making sure that Lotus stays true to its original focus on handling and lightness. “We had an electronically opening glove box, which in a sports car is worse than useless. I don’t know who put that in, but I took it out,” said Gales at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. That focus on simplicity and intentionality will lead to updates not just on the Lotus Evora, but the Exige and Elise sports cars, as well. But in the next few years, you will likely see either an SUV or sedan from Lotus, as well.
“We’d do an SUV that is very light, very fast on the track and has outstanding handling. 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,” Gales said in Geneva. Enthusiasts would likely prefer the sedan to compete with the likes of the Porsche Panamera and the Maserati Quattroporte; a light, quick sports sedan would fit well with the company’s image, while an SUV sounds more outlandish. But for a company that desperately needs to turn a profit, a high-volume SUV might be just the ticket.
It was a huge risk for Porsche to bring its Cayenne SUV to market, but it ended up being so successful that not only is the Cayenne the most popular model in Porsche’s lineup, but the company also developed another, smaller SUV, the Macan, to sell. From its launch, the Macan has been incredibly popular, with demand in the U.S. outpacing current supply. Lotus might not be able to replicate those sales exactly, but with demand for luxury SUVs so high, it’s a hard segment to pass up.
While it’s more likely that Lotus will produce an SUV first, there’s always the chance that it will end up producing a sedan, too. Success with an SUV and sedan could also give Lotus the cash to expand its sports car lineup the way Porsche has done with the 911 and Cayman lines. After all, if it weren’t for the success of the Cayenne, Macan, and Panamera, it’s unlikely that low-volume but exciting variants like the Porsche Cayman GT4 would have ever seen production.
Purists may not like the idea of a Lotus SUV, but the hard truth is, without an SUV, there may not be a Lotus left to sell the sports cars that enthusiasts love. Selling both an SUV and a sedan could breathe life back into a dying company, and that can only be a good thing. Gales is optimistic about the future of Lotus, and he’s already made a number of good decisions for the company. It sounds like an SUV is almost a sure thing, so hopefully it’s as successful of a move for Lotus as it has been for Porsche.
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