Spannerhead Dot

Losing Focus

July 25, 2011 by Matt

Lotus Elise

If there ever was a company that needed an Aston-Martin-in-the-late-’90s-style image-focusing makeover, it’s Lotus. The recent unveiling of their five (!) upcoming models seems like the latest convulsion of an automaker lurching from one era of their evolution to the next.

Their history as a company is the definition of uneven. They had a pair of incontestable successes in their early days with the kit-car Model 7 and pioneering monocoque Elite, went through a period of parity with other British sports car makers in the ’60s as they produced their lovely Elan roadster, and then diversified themselves into oblivion. Their ’70s cars, the frumpy Europa and second-generation Elite, were nothing special, then the company decided to dip its toe into the supercar waters with the late ’70s Esprit. They dabbled with a FWD second-generation Elan in the early ’90s before rediscovering their roots as a maker of lightweight, elemental cars with the superb Elise (pictured at top). All the while, the company farmed out its engineering services, working on projects as diverse as the chassis for the DeLorean and the cylinder heads for engines of the Dodge Spirit R/T and C4 Corvette ZR-1.

Lotus Evora

It all speaks to an automaker that doesn’t quite understand its niche. Companies have to grow and expand in order to survive and prosper; I know that full well, but there’s a way to do so while still retaining your core focus, understanding the non-negotiables that make you, as an automaker, distinct in the marketplace. Lotus should have learned that lesson with the enthusiastic reception the Elise received. People hailed its arrival as a return to Lotus’ fundamental strengths in developing pure, unfiltered, telepathic drivers’ cars, and for a while, it seemed as though they really had gotten it. The second generation of the Elise was introduced, and the weight stayed low, even as performance variants came and went. The Evora (shown above) joined the Lotus stable last year, and even it prioritized agility and kept weight relatively low (~3000 lbs), considering what it was, a larger 2+2 complement to the Elise.

But now the automaker is assaulting the sports car market with five new models, oversaturating and diluting the brand’s image in the marketplace, much the same way a musician would if he or she released five new albums in the span of a year. There’s far too much material to contemplate in one sitting, and even worse, the cars look appallingly similar, frustrating any attempt to distinguish between them visually. Worst of all, the new, larger, heavier Elise has broken fundamentally with the principles that shaped its genesis, and Lotus’s revival, in the mid-’90s. There’s little—on the spec sheet at least—to separate it from your average entry-level Porsche or Ferrari. For anyone who understands what put Lotus on the map in the first place, that’s a step away from a successful formula.

It’s difficult to grasp exactly what they’re trying to accomplish besides simply throwing everything into the marketplace at once to see what gains traction. And whatever merit that approach may have as a business strategy, it certainly doesn’t help their legacy as a maker of enthusiast cars. It just becomes more difficult for those of us who admire Lotus to be able to declare, with pride, that they have always done X, and have never done Y. Being able to make such statements about the guiding philosophy of an automaker we revere identifies them as an established, distinctive, focused company.

Filed under: Lotus

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