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Lotus looks to Europa

Luxurious: Lotus Europa S will be a Sydney show star.

Lotus Cars Australia attempts to shrug off its kit-car image with the luxurious Europa

28 Aug 2006

IT MAY be a down-market comparison, but Lotus cars in Australia have always had something of a "kit-car" association to them.

Despite impeccable British breeding, many Formula One successes and a reputation for building outstanding sportscars, the brand sits on the side-lines of supercar-dom.

With established sportscars like Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati taking the lion’s share of exposure, the tiny two-seater Lotus cars – Elise, Elise S, 111R, Exige and now Exige S – sit in the wings of desire locally, despite fighting well above their weight in performance and handling.

However, since the Lotus Elise moved into the United States market in 2004 the brand is gaining some much-appreciated wider exposure, a point not lost on Lotus Cars Australia recently appointed sales and marketing manager, Jon Stretton.

In a sense the profile lift of the brand in the US has helped raise the profile in Australia, he said.

However, Mr Stretton is also keen to leverage the brand here through word-of-mouth, targeted advertising and an expanded range over the next few years.

Lotus will build about 5500 cars this year, with half the volume heading to the all-important US market and about 500 going to Japan.

Australia, with about 60 sales forecast this year, ranks down the scale of the brand’s 40 global markets but it is no less important, according to Mr Stretton.

Since taking over the marketing role earlier this year, he has sharpened the marketing message, instituted some local network marketing initiatives and is pursuing "affinity" deals locally, hoping to develop cars similar to the special 2005 Lotus Espionage model built linked to Gieves and Hawkes tailors in London.

Mr Stretton believes the arrival of the luxury Europa here in October for the Sydney motor show and the new supercar due in 2008 will help change the Lotus landscape.

Australia differs from most Lotus markets in having a strong enthusiast owner base with owners who consistently use their cars in amateur race-track events.

57 center imageWhile admitting that these enthusiasts have helped keep the marque buoyant, Mr Stretton admits the brand needs to expand into more mainstream sportscars, with the Europa and a new supercar.

"The Europa will do that," he said.

"It’s a beautifully handling and riding car and a huge investment for us." The two-seater Europa S, unveiled at this year’s Geneva motor show, will be powered by an Opel-sourced turbocharged 149kW/263Nm 2.0-litre engine, mated to a six-speed manual.

Weighing only 995kg, the Europa is claimed to hit 100km/h in 5.5 seconds, has a top speed of more than 230km/h and clearly has its sights on the Porsche Cayman.

Importantly, the Europa gains a bigger boot and easier entry/exit to the cabin thanks to lower door sills. Satellite-navigation, dual airbags, and full leather interior featured on the show car.

Apart from the Europa, the as-yet-unnamed supercar many are calling the new Esprit, will also be a significant mainstream car.

Although specifications are still to be confirmed, the Esprit is tipped to offer a twin-turbo V8 mated to a six-speed sequential transmission. It will be aimed at the likes of the Lamborghini Gallardo but, with a projected price of around $180,000 to $200,000, it will command less than half the cost of a Gallardo.

The supercar will be built at Lotus’s Hethel plant in Norfolk, UK.

Mr Stretton said the four-wheel drive APX concept "crossover" remained a concept only, with no plans by Lotus to put it in production.

"Although, I would say, there has been a hell of a lot of interest in the car," he said.

The APX was built by Lotus Engineering Company as a test-bed of ultra-high strength lightweight technologies.

Another item on Mr Stretton’s agenda is to lift the number of Lotus dealers from the current four – in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide – to six and possible seven new dealers, with Perth being added into the mix as well.

"We definitely need to expand our dealership network," he said.

Although LCA has ruled out offering a specific customer driver training program based on a similar program offered in the UK, Mr Stretton is keen to develop racetrack circuit days for owners and prospective owners, if a suitable track can be found and the finances worked out.

"As we’ve found in the UK, once people get in and drive a Lotus there is a strong conversion rate," he said.

Apart from the just-launched Exige S hero-car, LCA will also introduce a 103kW 1.8-litre $69,990 entry-level Elise, which Mr Stretton believes "will open a few doors for us".

Lotus: An enviable heritage
LOTUS’ founder, Colin Chapman, had one ambition, to build the best sportscars in the world.

He built his first competition car in 1948 with the philosophy of ‘performance through light weight’, a philosophy that has endured through its motorsport and series production cars to this day.

The Lotus Engineering Company later followed in 1952, and LEC built the first production car, the Mark VI, fitted with a Ford Consul 1.5-litre engine.

By the 1960s Lotus had evolved and the new two-seater Elite arrived. The Elan, Europa and Ford Lotus-Cortina cars also broke new ground for the company, names that are still revered today.

Apart from the groundbreaking technologies and innovations developed by LEC, Lotus also achieved a wealth of Formula One successes, including 79 Grand Prix victories and seven world championships.

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