British carmaker Lotus’s bid to move from bit player in the racy roadster market to mass relevancy rests on a 600-horsepower (447kW) electric SUV.
China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which in 2017 purchased a majority stake in the heritage brand, revealed the Lotus Eletre on Tuesday evening in London, where it was driven onstage by Formula 1 champion Jenson Button.
The Eletre is a key part of Geely’s pitch to pivot Lotus to “lifestyle” vehicles beyond its sharp-handling, track-tuned sports cars, such as the lightweight, relatively affordable Elan and Exige.
The SUV, which will be built at a new factory in Wuhan, China, is the first of a range of new Lotus EVs planned for the next four years, including a sedan in 2023, a smaller SUV in 2025, and an electric sports car in 2026.
The Emira, which starts deliveries later this year, will be the last model to run exclusively on gasoline.
The China-based business is developing the electric cars for the British motoring brand.
Lotus’s EV pipeline is key to Chief Executive Officer Feng Qingfeng’s plan to boost sales from 1,710 vehicles in 2021 to as many as 150,000 annually, half of which may be in China.
“It’s a British brand in China – that’s going to be produced in China – so I think that’s going to have significance for them,” says Lotus Cars Managing Director Matt Windle in a roundtable interview following the debut. “It’s going to cross boundaries.”
The four-door SUV will be built on an all-new 800-volt dedicated electric vehicle architecture with a flat “skateboard-style” battery pack and two electric motors positioned close to the ground, one driving the front wheels and another driving the rear.
Twenty minutes on a DC fast charger will give 248 miles (399km) of range, with a total driving range of 373 miles (600km) when fully charged.
The Eletre will be priced under 100,000 pounds (R1.9 million) in the U.K.
Top speed is 161 mph (259km/h), with a zero to 62 mph (100km/h) speed of three seconds, according to Lotus.
The figures beat other premium electric EVs such as the Audi e-tron and Mercedes-Benz EQC by a significant margin, though the all-new Hummer EV boasts a three-second zero to 60 mph split, and the most expensive versions of the Tesla Model X Plaid SUV can do it in less than three seconds.
“We’re not aiming at the same segment as the sports cars,” says Windle, who calls the SUV a proper family vehicle.
But, he continues, “it’s still got to have that Lotus dynamics magic dust. If you want to drive the car a bit spirited, shall we say, you can.”
The vehicle comes with four drive modes to adjust the steering, damper settings, powertrain, and accelerator pedal response; the interior includes sustainable textiles and lightweight wool blends as primary trim options.
Both four- and five-seater configurations will be available.
Eletre, which means “coming to life” in Hungarian, is an apt name for the 74-year-old-brand that’s shown few signs of life in recent decades, despite its storied history – James Bond drove a white Lotus Esprit in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.
In some recent years, no Lotus cars sold in the U.S.
Questioned whether Lotus has the wherewithal to scale from less than 2,000 cars a year into a very competitive segment of the auto market, not only EVs but also SUVs, Windle is confident.
“We have invested heavily in both the U.K. and China in our manufacturing systems and our quality,” he says, citing the brand’s turnaround strategy which commenced in 2018.
“The cars will be right – and hopefully they’ll deliver exactly what the customers are expecting.”
First deliveries of the Lotus Eletre are planned for 10 markets across China, Europe, and the U.K. starting in early 2023.
Sales in other world markets, including the U.S., will start in 2024.