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Car confidential: Reasons for Lotus cheer

At last, Lotus dealers have a reason to be cheerful. Make that three reasons, for the Norfolk firm will add two new models to its stable by late 2007 – an Elise-based Grand Tourer and a new Esprit supercar – with another due at the end of the decade.

The architect of this plan is Kim Ogaard-Nielsen, the 46-year-old Dane who took charge of Lotus 11 months ago. He wants to turn Lotus into a highly profitable sportscar-maker, with three distinct model lines. “We have put together a plan for a very exciting future,” he told us. “Today, we don’t have a broad enough range, but we are investing every penny we can into changing this.”

The Elise family will expand next year. For the hardcore, there’s a stripped out, track day-racer, which is a rebodied Exige without windscreen and an optional passenger seat.

At the other end of the spectrum lies the Europa. This is a Grand Tourer, spun off the Elise chassis, but with a different character.

The three-door coupe will be more refined, easier to climb in and out of, better equipped and with a boot big enough for weekend luggage. The Europa also runs a new engine – the 197bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre from Vauxhall’s Astra. With more torque, drivers won’t have to rev it to the redline as in the Toyota-powered Elise.

The £30k Porsche Cayman rival is due in dealerships next summer. With the engine not yet federalised for the States, European dealers will get the entire year’s supply – but that’s just 450 cars.

By the end of 2007, the all-new Esprit will be in production in Malaysia. “It’s Lotus Cars’ largest ever undertaking, with 160 engineers on it,” says Nielsen.

The design is a 21st century interpretation of James Bond’s second most famous car. And the engineering blueprint is also true to the original: a two-seat supercar with a mid-mounted, 400bhp V8 driving the rear wheels. Nielsen confirms that the Esprit’s aluminium chassis is stiff enough for a convertible, and hints that Gallardo-chasing four-wheel drive versions could follow.

By 2010, the target is a third Lotus model. It’s currently more dream than reality, but the blueprint is for a 2+2 that sits between the Elise and Esprit, costing north of £40,000.

At last, Lotus appears to have the strategy to unlock the brand’s potential.



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