Updated: Feb 16
The new Emira has caused quite the stir and is taking the fight directly to the Porsche Cayman. Could this finally be the making of the cherished Norfolk manufacturer? Craig Toone and Warren Green argue both sides of the coin.
Images by Lotus media
THE ARGUMENT FOR - Craig Toone
Just like Alfa Romeo, Lotus appeared doomed to a cycle of hope and unfulfilled promises. No matter how many false dawns the company racks up - tossed from owner to owner like a hot potato - many of us continue to extend the lauded sportscar manufacturer a serious amount of goodwill. Thankfully, just like Alfa Romeo and the Giulia Quadrifoglio, it finally looks like the day is upon us for Lotus to realise its potential with the new Emira.
The reaction to the Emira has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s not hard to see why - Lotus have always looked great, but fantasy 007 Esprit’s aside, few have ever had mainstream appeal. Amongst the general public, there would always be admiration for an Elise or Evora but never desire. This is the Emira’s trump card. Quite simply, it’s a jaw-dropping design. If Lotus told me it was a rival to the £170,000 Ferrari F8 Tributo I’d still be waving my imaginary lottery win cheque book around. But the prancing horse Hethel has in its sights is not the one from Maranello, but Stuttgart. The Emira is here to go toe to toe with the Cayman - and it’ll cost from less than £60,000.
Mounted behind the driver are two engine options. The entry-level firepower is a four-cylinder turbo mated to a dual-clutch gearbox provided by new technical partner AMG. Both Alpine and Porsche have been criticised for their choice of four-cylinder engines, but Lotus has a strong connection to turbocharged fours going back to the Esprit, and the character has been specifically tuned by Hethel engineers. They have customised the sound, driving modes, gearbox calibration and output - in Lotus spec it develops 360bhp. Expected to tackle the 4.0 Cayman GTS head-on is the 394bhp supercharged V6 supplied by Toyota. Already one of the best sounding engines out there, the V6 is set to be offered with a traditional manual gearbox or torque converter, or paddle-shift automatic.
Delivering on driver appeal has never been an issue for Lotus. It's unthinkable the firm could produce a mediocre handling car. But just to be on the safe side, the Emira sits on an all-new platform and will roll off a new, state-of-the-art £100 million production line in Norwich, a stone's throw from the company's Hethel headquarters. Underneath Russell Carr’s alluring design is the brand's proven bonded aluminium structure with double wishbone suspension all around. Best of all, the car retains hydraulic steering.
Buyers will also be able to choose between two distinct personalities for the car - Touring and the more focused Sport. The former features fluid road-biased suspension tuning and Goodyear UHP tyres. The latter is available with the optional Lotus Drivers Pack and is tailored to provide superior handling and maximum feedback via tweaked geometry, firmer springs and re-valved dampers. Aimed at the track day enthusiast it comes equipped with Michelin Cup rubber. Both set-ups will remain passive and both sets of tyres have been fine-tuned in tandem with the manufacturers to Lotus’ specifications. Sitting at all four corners are 20” alloys aping the Evija hypercar - a first for Lotus who have traditionally preferred a staggered setup.
Previously Lotus interiors have at best been described as pared back and driver-focused, or financially challenged if being unkind. The Emira aims to vanquish this reputation. Development of the new cars’ interior began in November 2018 and took inspiration from both the Evija hypercar and the original Esprit. An elegant floating transmission tunnel partially displays the gear linkage on manual cars and also houses the shrouded start-stop button and all-important integrated cup holders. There’s a new multifunction steering wheel alongside dual LCD screens featuring digital graphics designed in-house. There will be two seat options - the standard is four-way adjustable whilst the upgraded bucket is twelve-way - both are fully electric and unique design to the Emira.
One of the key targets for the Emira has been the widespread adoption of technology to broaden the car’s appeal and usability. All the mod cons are present - Apple & Android car play, keyless go, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, electric folding door mirrors, rear parking sensors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, curtain airbags and a stolen vehicle tracker. Driver assistance aids include adaptive cruise control, anti-collision system, fatigue alert, road sign information, vehicle speed limiter, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist. For the hi-fi lovers, Lotus has teamed up with KEF for the optional premium audio system and all variants will be equipped with LED headlights as standard. It’s a serious assault on what was previously considered Lotus’ weakest link in comparison to German competitors. This step change does come as a cost, however - not in terms of price (the Emira is set to debut in spring 2022 at under £60,000), but in pounds - the Emira weighs in at 3,097lb EU DIN ‘in its lightest form’. That’s 1,405kg in old money.
Lotus has made all these promises of a quantum leap in terms of quality and refinement, whilst retaining the famous dynamics on many occasions before, yet this time the claims aren’t ringing hollow. The key player here is current custodian Geely. The Chinese manufacturer has a proven track record of steering its European assets into the black, thanks to its hands-off, investment forwards approach. Just look at Volvo - the Swedish firm continues to go from strength to strength. At Lotus, Geely have taken their time - unlike the bravado and bluster of the short-lived Danny Bahar era, or for all of Proton/DRB Hicom’s good intentions, neither had the ability or financial muscle to drag Lotus into the 21st century. Geely does, and the Evija hypercar and new factory can be classed as a statement of intent. Geely is also throwing its financial might behind the finance deals too - previously a major stumbling block for the brand compared to the more accessible offers from the likes of Porsche. And what of the name, Emira? It roughly translates from multiple ancient languages as a commander or leader. All the ingredients are there for the final internal combustion engine Lotus to be exactly that.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST - by Warren Green
Reading the words of my esteemed colleague, and being a Lotus owner for the past three years, I of course have to agree on the virtues of the new Lotus Evora, sorry I mean Emira. However, I'd like to step back from the hype machine for a moment and look at the strategy and product as a whole.
“£60,000 Lotus takes the world by storm” was pretty much every headline surrounding the launch a few weeks ago. That would be great if it was actually a £60k car, but if anybody remembers Tesla’s Model 3 hype, we were told that the era of the £30,000 Tesla was around the corner. They did sell a car for late-£30ks for a very short while, but it was really just a marketing exercise, and as we know, Tesla never pays for marketing, they just create some havoc occasionally and the media does the rest for them. I will keep mentioning Tesla in this article but the parallels can be seen here in quite a lot of scenarios; the only difference being that one company seems to have got things right, and I’m not sure at this moment, Lotus has.
This year, like thousands of others, I went to Goodwood FoS and I saw the show-car/hard model on the stand. It was blatantly obvious as soon as I saw the car that, in that guise at least, with its beautiful alloys and Seneca blue hue of paint (Porsche owners will see the heavy resemblance to Shark Blue), there was no way it was the £60k car people were led to believe. You see, this was the “Launch Edition”, and I found out through someone that day the Launch Edition would be a £70k car with an extra £5k of options thrown in. I think this has recently been confirmed by Lotus Marketing. Of course, it’s nothing new for a company to display a car looking its best, but a lot of £2,000 deposits were going down after seeing that model, and transparency is very important.
In my eyes, the Emira is currently a £70k+ car until they eventually release the four-cylinder model in its most basic guise. In 2021, that still isn’t terrible for a car with looks that most supercars would be jealous of (see Mclaren Artura); except we aren’t rivalling supercars here. We’re rivalling Porsche Caymans which are one of the best sports cars on the market, if not the best, and they start at £45.5k currently. A £45k Cayman will have zero options and feature a 2.0-litre engine which isn’t the greatest sounding thing of all time, but there’s no doubting that currently there’s a £25k price gap, which will eventually come down to £15k or so when the Emira four-cylinder comes along. A rather large amount of money for most people, and for the full £70k, you could have a Cayman GTS with the 4.0-litre, flat-six engine. The Porsche is also quite a way through its product cycle and is bound to receive refreshes and updates in the coming year or two, so whatever competition the Emira already has, it’ll only get worse down the line.
The Evora, which let’s be honest, is exceptionally similar (just a 2mm wheelbase difference) was a spectacular car towards the end of its product cycle. It’s one of the most stable sports cars in existence at high speed, and it also had one trump card over the Emira that a lot of people have overlooked. It could be bought as a 2+2. Now I’m not saying it’s a replacement for a Volvo estate, but a friend has an Evora 2+2 and whilst his children are still below double figures in age, he and his family are able to go out in the car together, and they’ve had some wonderful times. The Emira is a strict two-seater, and that will be a big disappointment for a lot of people, but also a massive miss for the marketing department. Instead of rivalling the Cayman alone, as a 2+2, you could have potentially poached 911 owners as well.
Did you know Lotus owners, such as myself, are a little obsessed with weight as well? No, I don’t mean we’re all on the Atkins diet, but if you can remove weight from the car in the right areas, then why wouldn’t you? At 1,405kg the Emira is rather heavy compared to some other previous Lotus, it’s actually the norm when it comes to modern cars which are just getting heavier due to crash regulations. I don’t see an issue with the weight myself, as long as it’s accurate.
However, what most people don’t know is that the 2.0 engine Emira with DCT Gearbox will weigh almost the same as the V6 with a Manual Gearbox. Secondly, where companies such as McLaren are adding hybrid systems and more BHP to overcome the extra weight of their cars, Lotus has given the Emira just over 400BHP from a supercharged engine. Now this engine is the same as what’s in my own car. It’s superb. Originally from a Toyota Camry (don’t tell the Porsche customers that!) It's an incredibly robust unit with linear power all the way through the rev range. In 2021, there’s no doubt it’s a bit behind the times in terms of output though, especially in a car weighing 1,405kg at the very minimum; start adding options and auto gearboxes which have more transmission power loss/extra weight and I do wonder what the YouTube reviewers will make of it when it’s not setting drag strips and racing lap times on fire. A BMW M3 will make mincemeat out of the Emira at the traffic lights.
Of course, these engines are apparently the last of the line for Lotus before they go down the EV route (although one can still hope a Hybrid is developed beforehand), and it’s a miracle that we’ve got an agreement with a Mercedes engine in the pipeline. However, it’ll be interesting to see if the engines are up to the job of providing longevity in terms of comparing to what competitors will be offering in years to come. Once the initial hype has died down, will the success continue? I believe the AMG engine will be available with several power options, a spyder is a small possibility and a car with aero could be on the cards too.
In terms of the brand itself, Lotus has always been the working man’s, or woman’s sports car. Allowing more people to own a truly exciting sports car without having to sell a limb. Work hard all week and have a car that will get rid of all that stress the second you turn the key at the weekend. It’s fantastic they exist, but actually, it’s not cars that make money for Lotus, it’s more the engineering side of things.
Lotus has had a hand in so many cars out there that most people don’t even know about, but at the same time, the company doesn't generally shout about it. Lotus is the millionaire sitting in the corner of a pub, wearing tatty clothes but enjoying a good pint knowing that he doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody. No showiness, just grassroots engineering with some of the best brains in the business.
The Emira is a new direction for the company but I want to make the reader aware that I don’t dislike change, it’s just that it has to be done right to be a success. This is where I feel Lotus has got things wrong and I really hope it doesn’t come back to bite them. It’s fine to have some teething issues, but plenty of other companies have gone down different paths before, yet Lotus doesn’t seem to have researched this too well. Tech companies such as Apple and Tesla have really led the way in recent years with hype-driven launches; had Lotus done more research into this type of introduction of the new car, it would have worked a lot better in my opinion.
The launch consisted of a half-hour or so lead-up from Geely, transitioning into a tenuous racing driver link with Jenson Button, a live show at Hethel with some of the worst presenters I’ve ever seen on any kind of media launch, and some footage with augmented engine noises over the top. This was not what I would call a professional launch personally. I’m in a couple of Lotus WhatsApp groups and at the time of the launch, people were messaging the groups jesting at just how long it was taking to get past all the initial talking phase of the video.
Then we have the dealerships. When teaser photos were first released, I put a call in to a dealer to register some interest. I simply wanted to leave my name and have them call me back once more details were known, but they refused to do so. I called another dealer who said I could place a £1,000 deposit on the car, then I called another dealer who wanted a £2,000 deposit and so on. I hadn’t even seen the car at this point, so I declined.
I’ve seen this before, where no direction is given to dealers by a brand, and the dealers have to conjure up their own methods of how to deal with sales on a new hype product. Suzuki was no different with the Jimny; small company, small dealerships and no idea how to handle heavy interest in a product. This is where the manufacturer should have made dealers aware of a new product being released days before the teaser images, and a plan should have been put into place for how dealers should handle sales and deposits etc at that point. After the above, it was pretty clear to me that there were going to be some issues with the launch.
Around this time, Lotus announced that they would be stopping all production of not one, but all three products they were currently producing so they could re-tool the factory. The Elise, Exige and Evora were all instantly canned overnight. This is quite unprecedented; can you imagine Porsche doing this to release one new car? It could be seen as ballsy but not from a dealer's perspective. You see dealers made around a 10% markup on those three models, and when the Emira was announced, Lotus were quickly stating that the first vehicles wouldn’t hit the market until mid-2022, and we all know that estimates like that can quickly end up moving backwards. So imagine you’re a Lotus dealer, mostly making money from new cars, not being able to sell many used cars as you simply can’t acquire enough stock, partly due to the car market being absolutely crazy at the moment; what do you do? How do you survive? You’ve literally just had all your products removed from your catalogue with no prior warning. Lotus dealers are generally quite small so will they all survive months and months of the odd used car sale here and there?
Dealers did start to get on top of their deposit systems eventually, and a lot of deposits were taken over the phone so that buyers of the Emira could get their hands on the car as soon as possible. However, Lotus stepped in again. One month after the main announcement, they apparently sent an email to all the dealers telling them that any deposits they had taken through dealerships were null and void. All deposits now had to go through the main website and dealers must call all their deposit holders (AKA customers) to refund their deposits and instruct them to visit the website and place their deposit there instead. Seriously? This is terrible from so many perspectives. Firstly, it confirms a proper plan wasn’t in-place initially, and secondly, it destroys relationships between the dealer and their customer. Imagine you’ve bought several Lotus in the past from your dealer, and you were told you’d have an early slot on your Emira; “sorry but you’re now somewhere amongst several thousand deposits before you and there are only 500 cars per year coming to the UK''. I’m sure Lotus and the dealers were overwhelmed with demand, but that shouldn’t matter. They created the hype, so they should have had the foresight to deal with it. They’ve had a couple of thousand deposits in the UK alone, but how many of those will actually remain after things like this?
Also, the dealers no longer make money from a direct sale of an Emira. The latest strategy from Lotus is to sell the car solely through the website. You can still pick your car up from your local dealer, but you can’t go in and specify the car. You might get invited to a launch etc, but you specify, place a deposit and eventually purchase the car on your 5-year-old laptop at home. I personally don’t like this at all. More companies are starting to do it this way, and it leaves me cold. I’d rather go and buy a used Aston Vantage or Evora and deal with a company face to face from beginning to end.
Whilst we’re talking about it, have you ever walked into a Lotus dealership? As a Lotus owner, I have. For the most part, these are dealerships that are very much in need of modernisation. White tile floors, white walls, a flower pot as décor and a Windows 7 computer somewhere in the background running the show. Go from here to a Porsche or Jaguar dealership. It’s like walking out of an IBIS and going straight into the Mandarin Oriental. A complete step-change in design, facilities and atmosphere. If Lotus is going to poach customers from these brands, how can they do so when their dealer network needs so much refurbishment, but the dealers, who are expected to pay for this themselves, don’t have the funds to do so, especially at a time when they have no actual cars to sell!
Also, go on Google maps now and find your nearest Lotus dealership. You might be lucky and it might be up the road. For me, it’s over an hour away and I live in one of the biggest cities in the UK! This isn’t the end of the world when it comes to buying the car you might think; if you really want an Emira then you’ll pick it up one day, and that’ll be that.
What about servicing though? Currently, there are circa 45 Porsche dealerships in the UK but only 16 Lotus dealers. Looking at Jaguar, in the North West alone, there are 13 dealers. Lotus is severely lacking here. However, that’s okay though, because Lotus have officially licensed service centres taking the total amount of servicing locations to around 25-30 in the UK, don’t they? Well, actually, whilst you were hearing of all the Emira hype, Lotus quietly removed the official status of said service centres, including PJS in Burton, who are one of my favourite garages to deal with. Main Dealers will of course be happy about this, but now you’re taking away a huge chunk of the livelihoods of a lot of family-run garages/specialists, and you’re lessening the appeal of an Emira to someone that has to travel hours to have their car serviced or repaired.
This is all part of a bigger plan, of course. I understand that. The Greater Good. What I don’t understand is the terrible forward planning of this, and the timing to do everything at once. Did the new guys running the show just pick ideas out of a hat and implement them all at once? It seems very short-sighted. It reeks of the electric car industry’s short-sightedness. Tesla got it right. They invested millions into Infrastructure with supercharger stations dotted around the UK (it’s only land owners that are slowing the proceedings with all this currently) and then they started to sell cars. Lotus needed to do similar; sort out their dealerships, re-brand them all, refurbish them all, modernise everything in preparation for going upmarket and then release the new car. Then you have a winner on your hands.
Finally, we need to look at the Emira as a single product line, and also the rivals of such a car. I don’t know about you, but I see the main rivals as a Porsche Cayman and a Jaguar F-Type. These are coupes with a similar sort of clientele and level of performance. However the brands behind them sell more than just one model, and therefore they survive off the profits of many other product lines. Lotus will of course add to their product line with the SUV down the line, but right now, for the foreseeable future, if you’re walking into a Lotus dealership, you’re going in there to look at one car, and choose from just six colours. It’s like Bristol back in the day, and we all know how that went.
Lotus need to quickly release more products, come up with a solution for dealerships to make a profit in the transition period, and they need to keep the extra service locations open so customers have more servicing centres within 30 minutes or so of large metropolises. I also know a friend who owns a Cayman is often invited to Porsche events and experiences; another thing Lotus needs to get their act together on and provide the full, rounded experience that premium customers expect.
So do I want the Emira to be a massive success? Yes! As much as it sounds like my stance here was to berate Lotus, I do wish them a lot of luck. I would love for one of my favourite car brands to thrive and rival the best of the best, and finally have the Lots of Trouble Usually Serious moniker disappear. However, my task here was to provide a counter-argument against my colleague’s stance on things, and I feel that my points are factual and valid.