Lotus looks to Renault's Alpine for help on electric sports car
Lotus Cars is looking outside its Chinese owner’s sprawling empire for help preparing for an electric future, joining forces with another small automaker to develop a battery-powered sports car.
The closely held UK company opted to collaborate with Renault SA’s Alpine rather than any of the brands in Zhejiang Geely Holding Group’s growing stable because the French firm offers a way to accelerate delivery of an all-new architecture, Lotus Chief Executive Officer Phil Popham said in an interview. The two companies first disclosed their tie-up last week.
Electric vehicles are seeing explosive growth thanks in part to governments both boosting subsidies to help carmakers recover from the coronavirus crisis and enforcing stricter emissions standards. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced late last year that the UK would ban sales of gasoline- or diesel-only cars from 2030, putting pressure on Lotus and other smaller British brands.
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Lotus, known for lightweight, well-handling models like the wedge-shaped Esprit driven on film by James Bond, aims to market its first electric vehicle based off the platform jointly developed with Alpine by mid-decade.
Electric architectures typically cost hundreds of millions of dollars, so the collaboration will help both companies save costs and improve economies of scale. Lotus also will consider licensing out the platform to other manufacturers, Popham said.
While Lotus is developing an electric hypercar -- the $2 million Evija, billed as the world’s most powerful auto -- it will target far more modest price tags for future electric models, the CEO said. The Evija originally was due to begin production last year but was delayed by the pandemic.
Lotus is also continuing development on what is destined to be its last combustion-engine model, Popham said. The car code-named Type 131 will be priced between 55,000 pounds ($67,000) and 100,000 pounds and have enough interior space to be compatible with every-day use.
Billionaire Li Shufu, who controls Geely, has championed consolidation as a way for carmakers to pool resources for initiatives including electrification and self-driving technology. He’s built a auto global empire over the past two decades, buying Volvo Cars from Ford Motor Co. in 2010, securing stakes in European legacy brands including Lotus and investing in Malaysia’s Proton. He is also Daimler AG’s largest shareholder.
In allowing Lotus to partner with Renault, Li has followed the hands-off approach he’s taken with Volvo, which under Geely has doubled sales and seen a resurgence led by its popular SUV models. Lotus had previously said it would lift production from below 1,600 cars last year to at least 5,000, a plan Popham said remains on course.
Small, electric sports cars are much harder to design than their gasoline counterparts because they need to be light and nimble -- attributes that aren’t easily achieved with heavy battery packs, Popham said. The joint development with Alpine is one of three EV architectures under development by Lotus, along with the Evija and another larger platform.
Lotus expects to develop several electric variants off the platform with Alpine, which will build its own cars separately off the architecture.
Cooperation may extend to Formula One racing, in which Lotus was a major force through the 1980s. The company later gave its name to a former Renault team until it was sold back to the French firm, which has renamed it Alpine starting this year. Popham said he’s keen to return to motorsports.