It’s an uncertain time to be a Lotus dealer. The Norfolk sports car brand is axing its entire European sales network and rehiring new partners as part of an ambitious relaunch which aims to put Lotus on a par with Aston Martin and Ferrari.
Lotus has a long and glittering history but the company has shrunk to a fringe player in recent times.
While Porsche has powered ahead to become a sports car juggernaut selling 100,000 cars a year, little Lotus sold 2,745 cars worldwide in the past year and just 577 of those were in the UK.
But a new management team has swept into power, last autumn announcing ambitious plans to turn Lotus into a world-class player.
Instead of producing just the back-to-basics Elise, associated spin-offs and the Evora, new chief executive Dany Bahar wants to launch a range of five sports cars to take the fight to the supercar aristocracy.
It’s a bold vision and, nearly a year on from the 2010 Paris Motor Show fireworks, the signs are that steady progress is being made.
The new Esprit mid-engined supercar will launch first, in March 2013, followed six months later by another blast from the past, the Elite front-engined 2+2 GT.
The Elise roadster will be replaced in 2015 around the same time as the Eterne sporting limo launches to rival the Aston Martin Rapide and Porsche Panamera.
Only the proposed Elan GT has fallen by the wayside, delayed until at least 2017.
For a small sports car maker in the east of England, this is nothing short of a revolution. UK dealerships could be forgiven for feeling pretty bloodthirsty right now.
Lotus has written to every franchisee terminating their agreements, as the company shakes up its distribution network ahead of the 2013 Block Exemption changes. Many will be rehired, but some may not.
CEO Bahar told AM: “We have around 150 dealers around the world, but we are going to slim that down.
"Every European dealer recently got a termination letter and we are reducing the US network from 55 to 40 outlets.
“This is not about cutting down our network – it’s about rebuilding it. We are appointing new dealerships and inviting our agents to reapply. They have to sign up to new standards so all our garages have the image we want the new Lotus to portray.”
Bahar and his director of corporate operations, Gino Rosato, are at pains to point out that Lotus has many excellent dealers who know their customers well and have served the brand loyally, in some instances for many decades.
This process is about sprucing up the Lotus dealer network.
Rosato said he wanted to improve the quality of Lotus showrooms so they were not perceived as “being like a used car lot” and claimed this was crucial if the company was successfully to rebrand itself as a serious player in the supercar market charging up to £125,000 for the new Esprit.
That’s double what you’d pay today for its most expensive car, the Evora.
“These customers are used to spending money in high-quality shops and hotels – a Lotus dealership should match that premium feel,” he added.
Lotus management claim dealers signing up to the new standards will not be expected to make heavy investments immediately.
“We would not ask them to invest money today,” Bahar told AM.
“This is a three-stage approach and we won’t expect serious investment until they are able to make proper margins on new product such as the Esprit from 2013.
"Around one year after the launch of the Esprit, the contracts will include the need to spend £30,000-£40,000 to make the Lotus dealership experience as special as you’d expect.”
Understandably, this is an uncertain time for Britain’s 17 Lotus dealers – a network of 10-12 is planned – but if the company can pull off its relaunch and successfully launch five new cars, the future could be much brighter.
The Lotus dealership of 2015 could be a busy place, stretching from superminis to supercars.
The fifth new Lotus is a supermini built in partnership with parent company Proton.
The Ethos will propel Lotus into the same league as the Aston Martin Cygnet and Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari – it’s a bespoke city car selling for around £30,000.
Proton will sell many tens of thousands of its city cars, especially in Asia, but the baby Lotus is destined to remain a more niche vehicle when it launches in spring 2014.
Bahar said the Lotus Ethos would use either a hybrid petrol-electric or full electric powertrain.
The new Lotus sports car line-up
What Mid-engined V8 supercar
Key rival Ferrari 458 Italia
When March 2013
What Front-engined V8 2+2
Key rival Ferrari California
When October 2013
What Supermini built with Proton
Key rival Aston Martin Cygnet
When Spring 2014
What Repeat of today’s two-seat roadster
Key rival Porsche Boxster
What Four-seater four-door
Key rival Aston Martin Rapide