Earlier this year, storied British sports car brand Lotus was purchased by Geely, the Chinese automaker responsible for the recent resurgence of Volvo. Geely has obtained a strong position for itself in the global transportation market, and is poised to experience healthy growth in the future, thanks to shrewd investments in ride-sharing and EV technology. Due to this, I think it’s safe to say that the small British automaker is now in good hands, and the brand is poised for some kind of revitalization — similar to what Volvo has experienced. See the Lotus models for sale near you
Just a few years ago, though, things were a bit different for Lotus. The company underwent quite the product marketing saga in 2010, and for a minute it looked as if the brand was set to reinvent itself and compete with the industry heavyweights. The plan seemed too good to be true, and it was. Here’s the story.
In late 2009, Lotus hired Dany Bahar to be its new CEO. Bahar had established himself as an effective marketer and visionary, having previously been successful in a number of growth- and strategy-related initiatives at Red Bull and Ferrari.
A mere 12 months later, at the 2010 Paris Motor Show — and to the shock of the auto industry — Bahar, who seemed to enjoy being the face of the company, introduced six revolutionary new Lotus concept cars, signaling an aggressive change in direction for a brand which, up until that point, had been a low-volume, boutique automaker.
The concepts showed an unprecedented level of ambition for a small automaker, and Lotus appeared ready to enter just about every performance car segment. Here was the planned product lineup — which sounded great, regardless of actual feasibility, and earned Lotus ample press coverage at the time of its reveal:
Elise: The long-awaited new Elise would be moved upmarket and targeted at the likes of the Porsche Boxster and Cayman. As a result, it would also be heavier, more powerful and more expensive than its predecessors.
Esprit: Unlike the others, the long-anticipated Esprit concept was in fact expected to debut at the 2010 Paris show, and was perhaps the model furthest along in its development at the time. A reimagined, reinvented version of the classic Lotus supercar, this new Esprit was targeted at the mid-engine supercars from Ferrari, McLaren and Lamborghini.
Eterne: The Eterne was called a hybrid sport sedan, and was designed to compete with the Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide. The concept that debuted in Paris didn’t even have an interior, just blacked out windows.
Ethos: A plug-in hybrid ‘City Car’ similar in size to the Volkswagen Up. Because at this point, why not?
These plans generated plenty of short-term hype for the Lotus brand — but to any discerning business mind, they were little more than pie-in-the-sky product planning conjecture. Lotus would’ve needed to raise an unprecedented amount of capital in order to see these plans through, and the automaker had little to offer in the way of any unique competitive advantage that would’ve attracted investors. Mysteriously absent from all this was an SUV, which is the one vehicle that might’ve generated the kind of revenue for Lotus necessary to actually develop and build each of these ambitious, niche performance models. Of the vehicles introduced, the one with even the slightest chance of playing the role of breadwinner for Lotus, the Eterne, was little more than a painted and polished clay model.
It all seemed too good to be true, and it was: Shortly after the show, Bahar was accused of misusing company funds; he was fired in mid-2012. After that, Lotus underwent yet another ownership change — and one by one, each potential new model was shelved, leaving Lotus with very little to show for this period of crazy hype. Find a Lotus for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.