Following the release of the Series I Elise in 1996, it became evident that this was the right car at the right time for a Lotus whose future looked bleak. It revitalised the company in the eyes of both its financiers and the public by offering a car that had all the criteria expected of a true Lotus.
The car was small, minimal and very lightweight at just 725kg – as a consequence it was a fantastic thing to drive on any road (besides an monotonous highway or congested city street). Now in its third generation, the Lotus Elise has remained true to its conceptual roots despite the addition of more creature comforts, more weight, a supercharged engine variant, and an inflated price tag.
The next Elise is due out in the next few years or so, and according to an Autocar UK report that picked the brain of Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales, it will be “ready in 2020” and keep to its core principles of lightness, driver-focused fun, and affordability.
Gales did reveal that the Series IV Elise will use an extruded aluminium chassis of the variety that the original Elise was first to use and now underpins all cars in the Lotus stable since then. He said: “The Elise chassis has often been copied but never equalled,” while also detailing a 900kg weight goal for the upcoming car.
“Combine that with the steering feel and you have something truly special. The DNA of that car is its light weight, its steering feel and the balance of power and driveability. At every price point it is sold in, it is the fastest car for the money — and always the most special to drive.”
Development on the fourth-generation Elise is already well underway, and Lotus is placing emphasis on further weight reduction. Gales added: “Today, we are still setting benchmarks for lightweight cars, just as Colin Chapman did when he founded the company. It is a philosophy we want to continue, no matter what car we build. “The benefits of light weight are enormous, from the speed of the car through to the opportunities to make it handle better.”
If the next Elise branches out in the same way previous versions have, it will then set the template for the more powerful and focused Exige, which in its current form, is available as a hardtop or roadster and powered by a 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine. Both these variants have gained glowing reviews, so there’s a lot riding on the next Elise to provide a base that the next Exiges can build upon.
An interesting challenge that the new Elise will have to take on is the increased safety equipment now mandated by certain regulatory bodies. In the United States, for example, stricter crash tests standards may mean that the minimal-minded Lotus will have to accommodate additional impact absorbing structures and side airbags, leading to a car that’s wider than it would otherwise need to be.
On increasing export sales and penetrating new markets, Gales said: “Our biggest markets today are Japan, Britain, Germany and France — in that order,” said Gales. “But there is no question that the US will be our number one market, with sales of the Evora 400 starting there this summer. It represents a fantastic opportunity.”
In recent years, increased safety and emissions standards have meant that turbocharging and electrically-assisted power steering (over hydraulically-assisted) are quickly becoming the norm. According to Gales, however, steering feel is something Lotus is not willing to ever compromise, “We have steering that nobody else has matched. That is part of our company and we will never do anything that disrupts that. It is a core part of Lotus.”
The next generation of Lotus cars is expected to continue the powertrain partnership with Japanese automotive juggernaut Toyota, stating: “The Toyota engine isn’t just proven as a great engine for the Elise across a variety of power outputs. It also has tremendous reliability. The warranty data is so impressive. We have invested a lot in the Toyota relationship and it is really successful.”
From what the company CEO has chosen to reveal, it seems that the Lotus of today is a brand that isn’t willing to yield ground in the face of new developments – regulatory or technological – unless it serves to enhance the driving experience.
It has found a comfortable groove with a small number of models, refining them as products for as long as they can, while keeping proven formulas and partnerships in play.