Lotus, the iconic British automaker that helped Tesla Motors and Chrysler develop their electric cars, is building a high-performance battery-powered sports car of its own and says we could see a prototype in March.
The company says the as-yet-unnamed car will be a range-extended EV that, like the Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma, uses an internal combustion engine to recharge the battery as it approaches depletion. Such a car would be squarely aimed at at the Tesla Roadster and Dodge EV, two cars that draw much of their automotive DNA from the Lotus bloodline.
"Don't be surprised to see an electric Lotus shortly," Lotus boss Michael Kimberly tells the Financial Times. "We are working on the technologies that will go behind it."
Most of the major automakers are developing battery-electric vehicles, but they tend to be runabouts like the Mitsubishi iMiEV or compacts like the Mini-E. Lotus, which is renowned for building cars with superlative handling, joins Tesla, Fisker Automotive and the German tuning-house Ruf in developing an electric car built solely for speed. The project further cements its reputation as a green-tech leader.
Kimberly didn't offer any details on the range-extended electric drivetrain beyond saying it will deliver 300 to 400 miles on a tank of gas. It's a safe bet the car will use a lithium-ion battery pack like the Volt and Karma, which promise an all-electric range of 40 and 50 miles, respectively. Kimberly says the electric Lotus "will become one of the showcases for the world of what you can do with electric vehicle technology."
Lotus is working with "a major automotive manufacturer" to line up a range extender — i.e., an engine — and other components, Kimberly says. Motor Trend thinks Lotus is looking to General Motors for help, arguing that the company has a similar drivetrain for the Volt and is providing engines for the Fisker Karma. But Toyota is a more-likely partner, given that it already provides Lotus with engines for the Elise and forthcoming Evora (pictured). Toyota also is developing a battery-electric concept vehicle that will debut at the Detroit auto show, and you can argue that no one has a better understanding of hybrid technology.
A bigger question is what the car will look like. Given that the Tesla Roadster is based on the Elise, and that Chrysler basically stuck a battery and a motor in a Europa and called it the Dodge EV, using those two models as the basis of an e-Lotus almost certainly are out. Lotus could convert an Evora with relative ease: It's a 2+2 with a mid-engine design, so there is plenty of room for a battery pack if Lotus yanks out the back seat like BMW did with the Mini-E. It's also a sleek, sexy car that would make EVs appealing to the sports-car set.
But Lotus also could develop an entirely new car. Although that's an expensive proposition that can take years — GM reportedly will spend around $1 billion and three years getting the Volt done — Lotus can easily cut corners. The Versatile Vehicle Architecture underpinning the Evora can be adjusted nine ways from Sunday with relative ease to suit a wide range of vehicles. Lotus says VVA will allow it to develop new cars in less time and at lower cost.
Whatever the case, an EV is a natural for Lotus. Beyond providing the platforms on which the Tesla and Dodge electric vehicles were built, Lotus builds the Roadster at its plant in Hethel, England, and provided technical help to Ecotricity, the British green-power company that is building an EV called the Wind Car.
Lotus, which builds about 3,000 cars a year and turned a profit of $2.9 million last year, is investing nearly $90 million in lower-emissions technology. Much of the R&D is done through the company's engineering arm, Lotus Engineering, which is working on everything from a fuel-cell taxi and hybrid limo to a two-stroke engine that burns just about anything.
Kimberly says the electric Lotus may debut at the Geneva auto show in March.
2006 BMW 330xi
2005 Lotus Elise
1983 VW Westfalia
1974 Toyota FJ40