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May 20, 2011

An open letter to Lotus

by JHW

TO:        Dany Bahar, CEO Group Lotus

Dear Dany,

At last years Paris Auto Show, you shocked the automotive world in announcing five all new models – an industry first.  As a long-time fan and former Lotus owner, I was ecstatic to see a bold statement from a company long mired in the status quo.  Sure, there have been some hits (Evora) and some misses (Europa), but nothing that has changed the game for Lotus.  While SAAB faltered in a crumbling economy, I along with millions of others, cringed, fearing that Lotus would come next.  Something had to be done!

Other companies have been there… Porsche re-invented themselves in 1996 with the release of a back to basics roadster, and again in 2003 with their entry into the SUV market.  Porsche did not change their identity, they applied their core values to new segments of product.  Today, they offer class-defining vehicles ranging from a $48,000 Boxster to the forthcoming $845,000 918 Spyder.  Porsche ‘s success can be attributed to many factors, but one matters most – the product was always fantastic. In this world, you have to be the best or the least expensive – if you exist in the murky middle zone, you had better do tremendous volume.  And thus, the crux of my issue with the Lotus five-year plan.  You cannot out-Ferrari Ferrari, beat Porsche, or stun Lamborghini, not with the cars you displayed in Paris!  Why?  I have seen your speculative pricing, and as for your competitive set… man, you have a steep mountain to climb.  If the writing on the wall is legitimate, Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini will utilize lightweight materials in lieu of furthering the horsepower wars.  Don’t you see it?  You lucked into a win, they are trying to meet you in the middle; meanwhile, you are flipping the company upside down to compete with their current products.

Donato Coco is a genius, and your concepts are beautiful!  Absolutely, strikingly beautiful!  But the premium car market is fickle, your victory will not be claimed in a beauty contest.  The first round of buff book tests will have to be bonkers, off the charts phenomenal… nothing can go wrong!  You have designed models meant to target business away from the 458 Italia, 599, Rapide and revolutionary Aventador.  Remember what happened when you targeted the 911 with your Evora?  Neither do most 911 owners.  The Evora is a fantastic drivers car with poise to match, however, it’s emotionless Camry motor, tiny heat soaked trunk and Alpine deck feel out of place in a $70,000+ vehicle.  Buyers in this price range expect, no… demand more and will not make the compromises offered by Elise/Exige buyers.  Furthermore, you went on a media blitz following the LA Auto Show in November, talking about the weight advantage your cars will have over rival products, particularly in regard to the Aston Martin Rapide battling Eterne.  I just can’t imagine a few hundred pounds making a difference in a segment obsessed with luxury, technology and perhaps most importantly, fit & finish.  The Eterne must do more, and for less!

While you can match the big boys in heritage, racing credentials, and iconic brand name; you sorely lack so much of what they have in spades.  Namely, a North American dealer network and current owner base.   Launching five new carlines at once is ambitious.  Not to suggest you should put all of your eggs in one basket – but… maybe two?  Choose the best ones, likely the Elan and Elise, build them right… incredibly, perfectly, outstandingly right!  Market them with passion, sell them with efficiency, and then do it again.  Or, please prove me wrong!  No one wants to see you fail…

 Thank you – and good luck

* UPDATE – Lotus has announced a pushed back production date of 2016 for the Elan, opting to give the Evora a “traditional model cycle”…

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