With Geely’s backing, Lotus is ramping up

Don’t call it a comeback, at least not yet, but Lotus is expanding. In an extensive interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Lotus CEO Phil Popham revealed the broad outlines of how the British sports car maker will be using corporate parent Geely’s billions to grow the brand. Aiming to triple production to 5,000 cars a year, Lotus will be hiring 200 new engineers, open an engineering center in the UK’s Midlands region, and complete a second assembly facility at its Hethel, Norfolk headquarters.

“Lotus has been in survival mode for years,” said Popham. “That proud past and strength of brand kept Lotus going for years. But we’ve got to address that… We’re taking on people here and also in the Midlands. We need to tap into the industrial resource outside Norfolk to help our growth.”

“I describe it as a 70-year-old start-up,” Popham told the Telegraph. “We haven’t got the baggage, so we can act in the entrepreneurial way start-ups do. Start-ups act as if they could go out of business at any time so they have to be agile, and make decisions quickly. We can do all those things without the fear of going out of business, because we have the long-term backing of shareholders.”

Popham revealed just how serious that backing is. Geely’s total investment in Lotus will likely exceed $1.95 billion, with Popham calling that figure a “bit conservative.”

The Lotus CEO also teased the price for the company’s upcoming Project 130 electric hypercar, rumored to have an impressive 2000 horsepower, and indicated that the flagship EV will also spawn a more conventionally powered variant at a much more accessible price, likely in the low six figures.

More than 1600 cars showed up for the Lotus 70th anniversary party at Hethel.
More than 1600 cars showed up for the Lotus 70th anniversary party at Hethel. Lotus

Popham said that Lotus was still doing the math but that Project 130 won’t be cheap. “Er, well, more than £1m. Seven figures,” said Popham, also indicating that it will be a fairly limited production number. The Project 130 will be fully revealed this summer. In addition to Project 130, Lotus will be developing a new platform to replace the aging Evora.

Last year, Lotus sold 1,630 cars and lost $46.9 million on $130 million in revenue. It’s estimated that Lotus lost almost $800 million under previous owner, Malaysia’s Drb-hicom, before Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Chairman Li Shufu stepped in to buy a controlling stake in the company with a $130 million investment in 2017.

Popham said that Lotus DNA will always feature lightweight, aerodynamic design, and Lotus’ unparalleled handling and driving dynamics, indicated by the company’s new slogan, “For the drivers.” That being said, the CEO also wants to make the brand’s cars more practical, specifically mentioning Lotus’ rather notorious ingress and egress issues, “just getting in and out.” He wants Lotus to build “a car not just for the weekend, but one you can live with… That’s the challenge we’ve given to engineers.”

Work continues on converting one of Hethel’s buildings into a Lotus museum with a recreation of company founder Colin Chapman’s office. There will also be a visitor center and a driving academy using Lotus’ famed test track set up at the former RAF WWII airfield.

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