Lotus has announced that it will finally bring production of its three best-known models to an end. The Elise, Exige and Evora will all cease to be built, heralding in a new era for the company.
The Elise was the beginning of a new dawn for Lotus. Starting production in 1996, the company’s thoroughly modern sportscar won it fans practically overnight. Loved for its handling and featherweight chassis, it weighed in at just 1598 pounds at launch. The Elise adhered religiously to the famous Chapman mantra: “Simplify, then add lightness.” It was a stripped-out, barebones little weapon, and few cars could match it for feel and driving experience at the time.
The Exige then hit the scene in 2000, serving as a more hardcore, track-focused version of the Elise. It then wasn’t long before the asthmatic Rover K-series engine was chucked out for a Toyota four-pot, and the model really hit its stride. With more power and a touch of Japanese reliability in the engine bay, Lotus had the perfect track day car on its hands.
Sales ticked up, and innumerable special editions came through over the years. Superchargers and V6s started getting handed out, and by the end of the production run, the Exige in particular had earned itself a serious reputation for performance.
The Evora was also a turning point for the company, first released for the 2010 model year. The model aimed to continue the Lotus tradition of light weight and sharp handling, while adding enough comfort to fulfill the role of a proper grand touring car. Paired with a Toyota V6, and available with a supercharger, it too became ever quicker over the years, and won new customers for Lotus who found the Elise and Exige too small or too focused for regular driving.
The Elise platform also served to gain Lotus business with other automakers. The Vauxhaull VX220 and the original Tesla Roadster were both based on the Elise chassis, chosen for its handling abilities and in both cases, paired with capable drivetrains with good power.
The three nameplates combined add up to a full 51,738 built over the last 26 years. While these numbers pale in significance to mainstream models, for the little outfit in Britain, it marks a huge change in fortunes. The company that was selling a mere few hundred units a year at its lowest point in the 1980s has expanded fortuitously. The three models account for just under half of Lotus’s total production in its whole 73-year history.
Production lines will now switch over to building the new Lotus Emira, with the mid-engined weapon serving as the company’s last combustion-engined car. Also coming soon are the electric Evija hypercar, which aims to be the most powerful production car in the world at launch.
Finally, spring will see the release of the all-electric Type 132, the first Lotus SUV. It’s a departure from the brand’s pure sporting ethos and a sign of the times. It may however mark a turning point, similar to that seen by Porsche with the Cayenne, where a cash influx from SUV sales supports the company to reach ever-greater heights.
It’s the beginning of a great shift for one of the best-loved, yet tiniest, automakers out there. Lotus’s great cars of the past quarter-century will long be celebrated; its new models will have big shoes to fill.
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