At the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed, the celebration of all things vintage, ground-breaking, and expensive in the auto world, Lotus unveiled the track-focused, Exige-based 3-Eleven. A pure and distilled driving experience that unleashes the full potential of its Toyota-based 3.5-liter supercharged V6, it produces 450 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, all while doing away with pesky unnecessaries like a windshield or roof. At under 2,000 pounds, it’s a modern translation of everything a Lotus should be. But sadly, it isn’t likely to make the company very much money.
Lotus’s decades-long financial problems have only grown worse over the past few years. Increasing worldwide safety and emissions regulations are making it difficult for Lotus and other niche players to survive, as they cut into the already-razor thin margins on each vehicle. In order to ensure that it can continue to fund projects like the 3-Eleven and the upcoming Evora 400, Lotus is going mainstream with a crossover SUV designed to pad its wallet and ensure it can stay afloat.
Lotus is hardly the first manufacturer to take this approach. In fact, it’s become a tried and true method for small sports- and super-car manufacturers who need to shore up their bottom line. Porsche has found great success with its SUVs, and its mass-market appeal has guaranteed that the brand still has some moolah to throw around when it comes to developing a Cayman GT4 or a 911 GT3 RS.
But don’t let the larger footprint or profile throw you off; it will still be a true Lotus. Company CEO Jean-Marc Gales said “if [Lotus founder] Colin Chapman was alive I believe he would have done” a crossover. Bold words indeed, but Gales is convinced that the crossover will be everything that makes the company’s cars great — lightweight, agile, track-worthy, and driver-centric. Think Porsche Macan, but lighter, Gales said.
“It will be the size of a Porsche Macan but only 1600kg, and will be the most agile and fastest of that class on a track,” Gales told Top Gear. “It’s logical for us to make one in the Macan segment – the rest are all two tons, even a BMW X3. They take a normal car platform with big tires and brakes and transmission. We will use a four-cylinder engine.”
The vehicle won’t be introduced until at least 2019 or 2020, and even then, it’ll initially be destined for China’s luxury-hungry automotive market. But as Autoblog pointed out, “If the model proves a success in China, it could make its way back to the UK and Europe, though North American availability remains a question mark, and Lotus spokespeople have been cagey at best about plans to expand their US offerings.”
News of the SUV follows up a broad strategic shift for Lotus. In the last couple of years, Lotus has all but disappeared from the American market, shaken up its executive team, and taken plans for a range-topping Esprit revival off the table. Its latest car, the monstrous Evora 400, will become available later this year, but that represents a rare spark from the currently cash-strapped company’s smoldering embers.
It seems everyone is rooting for Lotus — and they should be. Companies dedicated to building lightweight drivers’ cars are becoming fewer and further between, and we can’t afford to lose any more of them. Lotus has a legacy now, and though purists will balk at its push into the family-transport business, it’s important to see the forest through the trees and realize that the survival of the cars we love hinges more and more on the success of carseat-friendly models.