Lotus Takes a Short Break From US Market
Lotus is a household name in the world of performance cars and racing, but over the last couple of weeks it has seemed like the first time in several years since much attention was paid to the small British company. They haven’t put anything new in their already limited model range for quite some time, and it seems like people only started paying attention again after rumors started flying around that Lotus was pulling out of the US, the largest market in the world for the kind of car that Lotus makes, for an unspecified period of time. There are currently 45 Lotus dealers in North America, so such a move would be a blow to those businesses and to the company’s reputation. Some were even saying that the Evora, the last road car that Lotus even sells in the US (they sell other cars for the track), would leave forever next year. Fortunately, though, it doesn’t seem to be as bad as we all were thinking.
One source of alarm was a statement from Group Lotus PLC in mid-September about the need to “reshape its organisation and to reduce costs.” The resulting streamlining, according to the statement, could involve losing over 300 jobs in the company. This helped fan the rumors that Lotus was pulling out of the US, but Lotus released another statement a few days later clarifying that the company is still committed to the North American market and that though there will not be a 2015 model year Evora, their V-6 Porsche 911 competitor will be back for 2016. Interested buyers will have to make due with the still available 2014 models until then. Whether this 2016 version will be a new car or just an updated version of the original Evora, which has been produced with little change since 2009, is unclear.
The sad truth is that Lotus’s break will hardly go noticed. After making a big splash with the introduction of the Toyota-powered Elise and its variants in the US almost ten years ago, Lotus hasn’t been able to follow it up with much of anything other than the Evora. Promises of a new Elan and a new Esprit have come to nothing, and controversial CEO Danny Bahar who ran the company from 2009 to 2012 is generally considered to have mismanaged the fragile carmaker. With no new cars for anyone to review and with its own internal struggles to contend with, Group Lotus just hasn’t been able to get much good press.
Meanwhile, the Elise and Exige road cars have left the US market, leaving only the Evora. Lotus sold less than 1,000 vehicles worldwide in 2012, and even in late 2014 there are still “new” 2013 Evoras available at American dealers for sale. Sales are currently up from that, but it largely comes from markets other than the US. That’s not to say there isn’t any enthusiasm in America, it’s just that most of it centers around used Elises. It was and is such a fantastic car that prices for used ones, regardless of miles or wear, typically remain very strong. It’s incredibly rewarding to drive, has razor sharp handling, looks great and has Japanese running gear. It’s a perfect track day car, so with nothing new on the horizon and with the company in a shaky financial situation, the usual Lotus buyers have stayed fixated on and satisfied with their used Elises and Exiges. At the same time, the Evora continues to attract a few buyers away from the 911, but this number is quite small.
This “reshaping” that Lotus speaks of will hopefully yield strong recovery and results. Lotus is one the more prestigious names in sports cars and racing as well as one of the last of the small, unorthodox carmakers out there, so losing it, even if just in the American market, would be a real shame. The new CEO, Jean-Marc Gales, brings a lot of experience to the table and can hopefully set Lotus on the right track. If a short break with the Evora and some restructuring is what it takes to get Lotus back in the US with some fresher, more exciting models, then it will be well worth the wait.
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Story by Andrew Newton Photos: Lotus