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Remember When Lotus Debuted Six Concepts at the 2010 Paris Autoshow?


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.

Elan: Reviving an old name, the Elan was positioned as a replacement for the Evora, and would feature a 430 horsepower Toyota V6 and optional rear seats. The Porsche 911 looked to be a target here.

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.

Elite: The Elite was to be a 4-passenger grand tourer with a retractable hardtop and a 611-hp V8 from the Lexus IS F. This one appeared to be aimed squarely at the Aston Martin range.

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.

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Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a... Read More about Chris O'Neill

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7 COMMENTS

  1. /puts on devil’s advocate hat

    Here’s the thing about Bahar’s batshit plan: if Lotus is smart about it, staggers out development & releases in an intelligent manner, and gets enough $$ to make all this fly, it’s actually a workable product plan outside of a lack of SUV/X-over.  With a few tweaks of course.
    Face it, the Elise is a niche product as it is.  The Alfa 4C isn’t exactly burning up the sales charts, and continuing to make a more expensive 4C/even more expensive Miata simply isn’t the ticket.  Morphing it into a Porsche 718 competitor only makes business sense.
    The Evora sells/sold relatively well.  It could be a game alternative to the Porsche 911 or Mercedes-AMG GT or Audi R8.  This (or Elan) plus the Esprit would be redundant however, I’m not sure how many are willing to put Lotus on par with the Italians.
    Aston proved an exotic 4-door sports sedan could work, but I think Lotus should make an Mercedes-AMG S63/S65/E63 or Porsche Panamera competitor with the Eterne/Elite.  Yes roll those two concepts together, I don’t think there’s room for both, especially if the Evora/Elan continues with 4 seats.  Make it as easy to putter-around-town as those, and price it in that ballpark as the Rapide is too expensive.  I would also prioritize development on this model as it’s got the most customer appeal (outside of said theoretical SUV/x-over, of course.)
    As for the Ethos?  Maybe they could ask Toyota for a iQ badge job just like the Aston asked Mercedes-Smart for their Cygnet…… gotta meet EPA standards ya know!
    As for the SUV/x-over?  I’ll leave that for more intelligent/less drunk people.  Maybe Toyota will donate one of their platforms?  A performance Venza or RAV4?  I’m not /that/ drunk!  Yet!
    Anyhoo, timing is critical.  Prioritize the sedan and SUV/x-over to keep the cash rolling, then rework your sports cars/roadsters.  Make Lotus Great Again!
    /removes devil’s advocate hat.
    Holy cow I’ve been drinking….
    • None of those are bad ideas… It was a moonshot plan to begin with, but not necessarily bad product planning.  The issue was the feasibility of it all for a company like Lotus.  I could make up my own company and come up with a similar product plan, but that doesn’t mean I could actually get the cars made.  It was essentially all marketing and hype with nothing behind it.  Maybe he was hoping the plan would attract a buyer for Lotus… who knows.

  2. Lotus is one of those companies that enthusiasts always root for, sort of like TVR, but they never really come through.  I recall thinking that Lotus basically proposed slightly different sized versions of the same car back in 2010.  But hey, it’s worked for Aston Martin and McLaren! 

  3. The one on the bottom right looks like a MR2. The other ones look like the “Ferraris” and “Aston Martins” you’d see in a GTA game.

    • I’ve always wondered who designs those cars for GTA.  Like, if you aren’t good enough to work for an automaker, is designing cars for GTA the next best thing?

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