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Lotus to build Esprit outside UK

Lotus has confirmed it is to build a new version of its Esprit outside the UK, but insists its manufacturing plant in Norfolk has a long-term future.

Production of the Vauxhall VX220/Opel Speedster two-seater sports car, based on the Elise, will cease at the end of this year and is already winding down – currently to the rate of 10 to 20 units a week – pending GM’s official cut-off date.

Surplus manufacturing capacity is being used for additional Elise and Exige models, for which there is a waiting list of up to a year in the USA.

“We’ve been told by Proton that Hethel has at least another 10 years – and that’s a pretty healthy future outlook by any manufacturer’s standards,” says a Group Lotus spokesman.

As predicted in AM April 8, the £75,000-plus Esprit (pictured below), due to be launched in late 2007, will be assembled abroad in a move to cut costs and speed up production – Hethel is largely non-automised, relying on hand assembly. What has not yet been decided is where the Esprit, which ended production in the UK last year, will be built.

“There are several options, among them Proton’s home country plant in Malaysia, the MV Augusta facility in Italy, or a joint venture in China,” says the spokesman.

Lotus has denied reports that it will be forced to make staff redundant, insisting that its strategy is to continue production of the Elise and Exige sports cars together with a new front-engined 2+2 coupe, which will sit between the two. Total production last year was 4,800 units and this year is expected to hit 5,500.

The site has capacity to build 8,000 Elise-type cars a year.

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