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I recently returned from a hectic 2 week business trip to Europe, during which I managed to find time to visit Lotus in the UK and have a look around the factory.

Lotus currently conducts factory tours only on Wednesdays. They run 2 tours during the day, one in the AM and one PM. I opted for the morning tour as I expected there would be more people on the afternoon tour.

As it turned out I was correct, the only other participant was an 8 year old boy named Will and his father. Will lived in Norwich and had recently been on a factory tour at the Bentley facility, a fact that he made plainly clear to our tour guide (Annette) right from her meeting us at the factory reception area. Will was an extraordinary kid. Like most kids his age, he was really into cars, and full of energy, enthusiasm and lots of questions. However, what made him more remarkable than most kids his age was the fact that he had recently undergone major organ transplant surgery (liver and small bowel) and was still off school since he was not ‘out of the woods’ yet. Talking to his father, they were extremely lucky to find a suitable donor, and the surgery appears to have been successful. Except for the tell tale signs of a tube snaking up through his nose and a scar that started from his shoulder and probably went all the way down his torso, you would never have known Will had undergone such a traumatic experience. Will’s dad had contacted Lotus and asked for a tour with as few other people as possible, due to Will’s current condition. I think Lotus wanted to give him a private tour, but since I was coming from the US they didn’t want to cancel on me.

Anyway, right from the get go Lotus were obviously going to make this a memorable experience for Will. I was more than willing to take a back seat and let Annette focus her priorities on Will. Annette managed admirably for the duration of the tour to juggle the interests of Will and my interjections with questions,. I had no intention of getting in the way of Will’s special day at Lotus, especially since I will be back next summer for the Lotus Driving Experience, which also includes the Factory Tour.

The tour started off with Will taking a seat in the Storm Titanium Fed Elise sitting in the reception area, and having his picture taken. Any type of photography is strictly forbidden on the Lotus site, but Annette said they would take some photos for Will.

First stop on the tour was the body panel area where they prep all the panels. The ‘nude’ panels are very smooth and have quite a sheen to them, so in order to give the paint a better keyed surface they are hand sanded to roughen them up a bit. Just looking at the ‘nude’ panels adds to my concern as to how strong the paint bond is on the finished item. I reckon the paint chips more easily than on most production cars. The ‘nude’ panels for the Elise are white and the Exige pale blue. Not sure why they are different colors but it could be to eliminate mix up on the assembly line. Annette also thought that it could be a slightly different manufacturing process. Each panel is 2.5 mm thick. The front and rear clams are made up of several panels that are manufactured in France and then glued together at Lotus. After bonding together the components, the joints are filled purely for aesthetic purposes and voila you have a front or rear clam. Bonding and prep process accounts for 13 man hours.

During our time in this area, one of the Lotus workers came up to Will and presented him with an 8x12 photo of all the Lotus employees and Norwich City Football Club staff standing behind all the current Lotus car models. Each of the Norwich City footballers had signed the photo. For those of you not familiar with English Football, Norwich City are sponsored by Lotus and are currently playing in the Premier League which is one of the most prestigious football leagues in the world. Will was thrilled to receive the photo, but then to his dads’ embarrassment he announced to Annette that he was a Manchester United supporter. We all had a good laugh !!
 

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Next stop was the paint shop, where clams & panels of every color available were on show. The painting process accounts for one-fourth of the total build time i.e. 26.5 man hours. In summary the paint process is:

Primer – 110 - 140 microns, 2 coats baked at 80 deg C for 40 mins
Paint – 20 - 25 microns, 2 coats baked at 80 deg C for 80 mins
Lacquer (inc. metallic for lifestyle colors) – 50 – 70 microns, 2 coats baked at 80 deg C for 40 mins.

8 – 10 litres of paint are used per car. 21 cars are painted each day. At the start of each week a build schedule is issued, and all cars of the same color within the weekly build schedule are painted in one batch. After painting, the clams are lined up on pallets against the walls. I got the opportunity to see every Fed Elise color (including Aztec Bronze) close up. The one color that really caught my eye was Nightfall Blue. I’m not normally one for dark colors, but there was something about this color that really grabbed me. It is a really beautiful color that fits its title very well. Graphite Grey also looked really nice. I didn’t like the Olde English White as I found it had too much yellow/brown for my taste. The most common colored panels that I saw were ST, AS, BRP, SY & OEW. There were no LB panels lined up. I asked Annette about Laser Blue availability, and she said there were no plans to stop offering it as an option as long as there was a demand. Apparently, it was only intended as a show car color for the Fed Elise, hence the reason it wasn’t on the US dealers color palettes. There was one Aztec Bronze set of panels lined up. When I made a verbal statement that I had spotted the Aztec Bronze, Annette turned around and her face basically confirmed what the majority of us EliseTalkers feel.

Moving on to the actual production line where the Elise’s are assembled, the first thing you see are the chassis all lined up. The chassis are made in Worcester, England by Hydro Automotive Structures, who also make the chassis for the Aston Martin Vanquish. The orange glue that is used to bond together the chassis was developed by Bayer, specifically for Lotus. There are 2 production lines, one of which is dedicated to the Fed Elise and the other for ROW, Exige & VX’s. There is space to put in a third line should Lotus ever decide it necessary.

I asked whether there were any plans to introduce the Exige to the USA and was told there wasn’t at the moment, but it would ultimately depend on the marketing guys. I got the distinct impression that Lotus were frustrated by the amount of bureaucracy & effort (i.e. cost) it takes to get vehicles registered for the USA. I was also told that there are no current plans to introduce any factory performance packages/factory options (turbo, supercharger, LSD, suspension etc) since these would again require registration for import to the USA which Annette explained was very difficult. I guess the current DOT exemption is limited to the specific configuration of the current Fed Elise and any new factory fitted mods would require US import registration of what is in effect a new Elise model. LSD is available but only as an after market option.

During my time on the actual production line I was checking out some of the VINs of the cars currently being built. Although I did get some of them, Annette caught me writing them down and requested that I do not post them on any web forum (she specifically mentioned EliseTalk !!). I also spotted a hand written list taped to a support beam that listed about a dozen pilot/prototype paint color names that I guess were being ‘tested’ by Lotus. Unfortunately there were no samples to be seen anywhere.

Into the finishing area where there was a batch of freshly completed BRP’s (another very nice color), with a batch NB’s not far behind. There were also 2 LB’s in this area. Apparently they had just done a batch of LB’s the week before. I also picked up a couple of VINs here as well. Since I was asked not to post any VINs (in case of delays in the owner receiving their vehicle), I will respect Lotus’ request, however I think it would be okay to say that they were much nearer 2000 than 1500. The finishing area is also where they dyno each car, check for water leaks and put other final touches to the car before the final QC sign off.
 

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Moving outside of the finishing area, you come to where the Elise’s are stored prior to shipping to port or dealership. There must have been well over 100 - 150 cars sitting out there in the rain. Obviously not all were destined for the US but a high percentage probably are. Lotus is currently producing 120 cars per week including 50 Elises destined for US shores. Based on this fact, and the number of completed cars sitting waiting to be shipped out, I’m convinced that the delays in getting the cars to those of us in the US are not down to Lotus UK, but more likely the shipping companies, port authorities, US distribution system and other unnecessary government bureaucracy.

After finishing our tour of the production area we headed over to the Lotus Sport building (more Elises & Exiges sitting waiting for their new owners) to meet the Lotus Sport staff. I also took their last pair of black Lotus Sport fleeces from them for a tidy sum. I have to say these are really nice items, much more interesting than the regular green & yellow Lotus items, although I also bought a couple of those for my 2 boys.

On the way over to the Lotus Sport building Annette asked Will how he had liked the tour. Will said that it was very nearly, nearly, nearly as good as the Bentley factory tour (I think he actually used the word ‘nearly’ more times than that). So, not to be outdone by Bentley the Lotus Sport staff presented Will with a bunch of Lotus goodies including a really nice Lotus pen (for when he goes back to school), calendar, baseball cap, and a bunch of extremely collectible limited edition toy cars of various Lotus models from down the years. Some of these cars had a very limited production run and were individually numbered. Will wanted to take them straight out of the box and play with them, but his dad quickly squashed that idea knowing that these were ‘keepers’ and not really for playing with since they are hard to come by and could be worth a lot of money now and even more so in the years to come.

Then, just as we thought it was all over, Lotus Sport had one final treat for Will. Who should walk into the Lotus Sport office, but none other than Alistair McQueen complete with spare crash helmet. He proceeded to ask Will if he would like to go out for a ride in an Elise on the Lotus circuit. No guesses as to what Will’s answer was. So, after his Dad had signed all the necessary paperwork, Alistair and Will get into an Ardent Red Elise and off they go for 3 laps around the Lotus circuit. Even though it was raining, Alistair did not hang about. Will said they got up to 120+ mph on the straights. When they pulled back into the Lotus Sport parking lot Will had the biggest grin on his face you’ve ever seen, and promptly announced that his day at Lotus was much better than his Bentley day out. He then asked his Dad if he would buy him an Elise when he was old enough. Needless to say there were a lot of smiling faces around the office. It really makes you feel good when you see someone who has been through what Will has been through (at 8 yrs old as well), walk in grinning from ear to ear. Here we are complaining because we can’t get our cars (yes I know it’s easy for me to say since I have mine) but imagine the wait & worry that Will & his family have had to endure in order to get a suitable donor. This kid was so full of energy and enthusiasm considering what he’s been through. He is truly a great kid who could teach most of us adults a thing or two about life and making the most of it.

Kudos to Annette and the rest of the Lotus Sport staff for making it an enjoyable and informative tour, and especially for making it a day that Will, will remember for a long time to come. I was glad I could be part of it.

Thanks Lotus

Alan
 

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WOW!!!:eek: :eek:

Alan,

Just a fantastic write up!!

Your statements at the end are so true.

We are pretty lucky people to be able to enjoy what Lotus has to offer but Will is even luckier because he has been given a chance to see what life has to offer.

Thanks!
 

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Made my day, reading that! thanks!
 

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Thank for sharing all that Alan.

Oh. And even though it is bad news, thanks for confirming my suspicions about why LSD hasn't been specified by Lotus as an official option.
I was also told that there are no current plans to introduce any factory performance packages/factory options (turbo, supercharger, LSD, suspension etc) since these would again require registration for import to the USA which Annette explained was very difficult. I guess the current DOT exemption is limited to the specific configuration of the current Fed Elise and any new factory fitted mods would require US import registration of what is in effect a new Elise model. LSD is available but only as an after market option.
 

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Brilliant! Simply fantastic story. Thanks to Lotus UK for being so fantastic, and thanks to bio for placing such a great experience down on paper for us all.

Keep smiling Will!
 

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thank you, Alan!
 

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thanks!

I am honored that you took the time to share that story with us. Thank you, Lotus employees, for taking the energy and effort with Will to show him a great time!!! Wonderful.
-=cixel
 

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biobaggie said:
Lotus is currently producing 120 cars per week including 50 Elises destined for US shores. Based on this fact, and the number of completed cars sitting waiting to be shipped out, I’m convinced that the delays in getting the cars to those of us in the US are not down to Lotus UK, but more likely the shipping companies, port authorities, US distribution system and other unnecessary government bureaucracy.
This then begs the question: What special methods to BMW, M-B, Audi, etc have for getting their cars to American shores in a more timely manner?

Thanks for the write-up. Every single observation and item of insight is valuable.
 

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As to the question about BMW, M-B distribution.
BMW and M-B both sell more cars here than Lotus and have dedicated port operations and exclusive shippers. I doubt that Lotus spends the money for this. The closed carriers that are used to ship BMWs only carry BMW's. M-B uses a different carrier.
 

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biobaggie said:
Will was thrilled to receive the photo, but then to his dads’ embarrassment he announced to Annette that he was a Manchester United supporter. We all had a good laugh !!

great write up. hey, i like this kid!
 

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biobaggie said:
The ‘nude’ panels for the Elise are white and the Exige pale blue. Not sure why they are different colors but it could be to eliminate mix up on the assembly line.
Elise clams/panels are industrially manufactured using injection-moulding fiberglass without gelcoat in France.

Exige clams are made using the old hand-laid fibreglass method with a gelcoat.

Bye, Arno.
 
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