Lotus is making a little bit of a comeback having spent many years in the doldrums. Under the direction of new CEO Dany Bahar the company has hit the reset button and announced a completely new line of high performance road cars to replace its ageing fleet.
Part of this plan involves the company entering Formula One by purchasing the team formerly known as Renault. Having previously spent time at both Ferrari and Red Bull Bahar is very much of the opinion that motorsport participation can stimulate car sales. This is an audacious and risky plan which is alleged to involve the company taking out numerous loans to fund its expansion.
One of the first products to come out of Lotus in the Bahar era is the new Lotus Elise Club Racer, which is 24 kg lighter than a conventional Elise; an incredible achievement when you consider that conventional Elise already weighs 876 kg. This is despite the exterior appearance of the Club Racer looking very similar to that of the conventional model. These weight savings have been accomplished by fitting lighter components; with the battery, seat and noise insulation being prime areas of focus.
The 2012 Lotus Elise Club Racer version is powered by the same Toyota built 1.6 litre four-cylinder 134bhp motor which is fitted to the conventional model. However, with these weight savings, top speeds and acceleration times are much improved. The new Elise also comes with a Dynamic Performance Management system (DPM) for the first time, which for those not adept in the Lotus lingo basically translates into a sport mode. This tunes the suspension and anti-roll bar as well as activating an intermediate setting for the stability control. Basically, this means that the electronics can alter the behaviour of the vehicle to make it easier to drive for those who are less confident or less experienced.
The car will be available from £27,500 ($54,990) and comes in six different colours (black, Carbon grey, red, saffron yellow, sky blue and white). It might be difficult to justify this payment when you consider that driver comfort and things that are usually given as standard (i.e. noise insulation, radio and air-conditioning) are not included. However, emulating the Lotus fashion of old, this vehicle is all about performance and the removal of these things was necessary in order to ensure that the vehicle achieves it maximum performance. Despite driver comfort being compromised, quality has remained essential for Lotus who has sourced components from highly rated external partners such as Bilstein and Eiback.
Don’t forget that the lighter frame will also ensure less fuel consumption; reducing your annual fuel bill compared to the running costs required for a conventional Elise and appeasing environmentalists who criticise manufacturers for perusing such high performance vehicles. Lotus claims that the Club Racer version of the Elise will be capable of a very respectable 45 mpg.
Lotus Chief Technical Officer Wolf Zimmermann hailed the Elise as an “icon” of the sports car market, and proclaimed that the new Club Racer version is “fast, raw, responsible and a huge amount of fun to drive”. This could be the first step in the mission to get Lotus back on the right track, with the new Elise club racer having been met with overwhelming positive reviews from motoring journalists who have been lucky enough to drive the model thus far; many of whom who have complemented the vehicles handling and the pure driving experience that it provides.
All Lotus has to do now is make sure that the Elise is a more attractive proposition to petrol heads than what is on offer through its competitors. This means that they have to once again take on arch-rival Tony Fernandes who was alleged to have been interested in purchasing the Lotus car company before switching his attentions to British sports car manufacturer Caterham. This battle will even been taken onto the race track, with Caterham also now owning its own F1 team. This could prove to be one of the most fascinating battles of the coming years, both in F1 and in the automotive market and could possibly serve as conclusive proof of Bahar’s theory that on-track racing success ultimately impacts on car sales.