Lotus has a checkered history â€” quite apart from its seven Formula 1 World Championships. The road-car and engineering businesses have gone through periodic crises, and since Colin Chapman, the founder and inspiration of Lotus, died in 1982, the company has had three different owners: General Motors, Romano Artioliâ€™s Bugatti, and Malaysian automaker Proton today.
Now Lotus appears to be settling down in the experienced hands of Michael Kimberly. Kimberly, who joined Lotus in 1969 and was CEO from 1983 to 1991, returns as CEO after the departure of Kim Ogaard-Nielsen and promises to secure the future of Lotus through a comprehensive five-year plan that calls for new models including a replacement for the Esprit.
We will have to wait until the end of 2008 to experience the new Esprit, but we are told it will be entirely new and the first Lotus to employ the â€œversatile vehicle architectureâ€ aluminum construction technique that will allow other models to spawn from the Espritâ€™s bones. Internally, the new Esprit is known simply as MSC, for mid-engined supercar. Kimberly calls it the â€œjewel in the crownâ€ and believes the new Esprit is crucial to Lotusâ€™s future and reputation. Priced to compete with a Porsche 911 Turbo or the upcoming Audi R8, the next Esprit will be at least $130,000. Kimberly promises â€œa stunning, exhilarating car with high performance and vehicle dynamics superior to any other.â€
Power for the Esprit is expected to come from an outside source, as Lotus has deemed a new powerplant too expensive and the turbocharged V-8 from the previous Esprit outdated. These days Lotus develops engines for others, but it has no wish to make one from scratch for a low-volume supercar. â€œIt simply isnâ€™t viable,â€ says Kimberly, who will not confirm rumors that a version of BMWâ€™s 4.8-liter V-8 with perhaps at least 400 horsepower will motivate the mid-engined supercar. What Kimberly does reveal is that the next Esprit will be sold as a coupe and convertible.
Beyond 2008, there is the prospect of a two-plus-two Lotus coupe, a modern interpretation of the never-sold-in-America Excel. Kimberly also wants to get back into the business of producing Lotus-badged niche vehicles for volume automakers, reviving the idea of the Ford Lotus Cortina, Talbot Lotus Sunbeam, and Opel Lotus Omega that helped keep Lotus in business when its own sports cars struggled to find customers. He claims to be close to finalizing a deal to make a special performance derivative of an existing car but wonâ€™t say who the client is until the contract is signed. If it goes ahead, the Lotus-tuned vehicle will debut in 2008.