Insatiable demand for SUVs all over the globe but particularly in key markets such as China and the U.S. has led to companies even like Lotus, whose reputation is built on lightweight sports cars, joining the trend. Yes, new CEO Jean-Marc Gales has finally confirmed that the British sports car brand is working on an SUV, which is to be built at a new plant in China.
Despite what the naysayers may think, the move is entirely understandable given Lotus’ financial predicament (the company sold just over 2,000 cars last year and is bleeding cash) and the success rival firm Porsche has enjoyed with SUVs. Porsche is likely to sell around 30,000 Macans in China alone this year and this figure is tipped to rise as high as 50,000 units in just a couple of years.
Unlike Porsche, which is able to build its Macan in its German home, production of the new Lotus SUV will be handled by a joint venture formed with Chinese industrial firm Goldstar. To help speed up development and save on research costs, Gales told Autocar that some parts sharing with Malaysian parent Proton was possible.
However, Lotus is unlikely to use an existing platform, as previously speculated, but rather a new, less expensive steel monocoque design that could be shared with a Proton model or possibly a Chinese brand. To ensure the Lotus SUV stays true to the company’s ethos of performance through less weight, it will likely utilize plenty of lightweight materials in its construction, such as for the suspension and body panels. The size of the vehicle should be similar to that of the aforementioned Macan.
“Lightness, driving purity, design and a certain unconventional quality—these are all core Lotus values,” Gales explained. “At present, there’s nothing on the market that fits the description.
Powertrains will likely continue to be sourced from Toyota, a deal which Lotus has recently extended. This means we can expect versions of the 1.8-liter four-cylinder and 3.5-liter V-6 offered in Lotus’ current sports car lineup to make their way into the new SUV. Rear-wheel drive is expected to be offered as standard, with all-wheel drive available for those who desire it. An electrified drivetrain is also being looked at.
The new SUV is expected to enter production in 2019. It’s hoped its arrival will eventually see Lotus’ annual sales tally surpass 10,000 units. Sales outside of China are possible, with Europe likely to be the first port of call due to the similarity in standards between the two markets. Sales in the U.S. will be more of a challenge, Gales explained, because of the modifications required.
Note, an SUV isn't the only mainstream model Lotus is considering. The British sports car brand is also looking at adding a sedan to its lineup, though confirmation for this model is still due.