ECONOMY

Lotus Plans China Pivot and Hints at Embrace of Lifestyle Models

After churning out low-slung sports cars for race tracks and roads in low numbers for seven decades, Lotus Cars is being pulled into the auto industry’s inescapable love affair with the boxy SUV.

The company majority-owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group is building a new plant in Wuhan, China, where it will make “lifestyle vehicles,” Managing Director Matt Windle said in an interview. The factory will have annual capacity in excess of 10,000 vehicles, and Lotus will continue to build its sports cars in Hethel, England, where it expects to triple production over time from the 1,600 cars it aims to sell this year, he said.

“We’re always pushing for lightweight, we’re always pushing for the best dynamics, we’re always pushing for the best aerodynamic mix,” Windle said. “But now what we need to do is add technology to that and offer wider range and better-quality products to our customers.”

Windle declined to reveal the specifics of the lifestyle vehicles other than to say that they would be electrified. An SUV would be a major shift for Lotus, known for its lightweight, well-handling models like the Elise or the wedge-shaped Esprit favored by James Bond. Luxury carmakers from Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings Plc to Automobili Lamborghini and even Rolls-Royce Motor Cars have introduced SUVs to lure well-heeled buyers in developing markets.

Owner Geely is considering raising about $1 billion to help Lotus expand in China’s electric-vehicle market, people familiar with the matter said earlier this month. Like many other carmakers, Lotus is retreating from the combustion engine and moving its portfolio to electric vehicles. The company will begin sales of its long-awaited Emira sports car in July, its last gasoline-only model. Deliveries will begin next year.

The carmaker is also continuing discussions on a new electric sports-car platform it is developing with Renault SA’s Alpine unit.

“We want to significantly grow our volumes, which will then grow our revenues, which will allow us to be self-sustaining and deliver many more of the products in the future that our customers want,” Windle said.

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