ECONOMY

Lotus Strays From Low-Slung Sports Cars and Joins SUV Bandwagon

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 U.K. 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.

“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. SUVs would be a major shift for Lotus, as it’s known for its lightweight, well-handling models like the Elise and 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.

Geely is considering raising about $1 billion to help Lotus expand in China’s electric-vehicle market, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News earlier this month. Windle said Lotus probably will raise funds externally at some point, but how the company goes about it is still to be determined.

“At the moment, we’re in a very, very expensive period for the company,” he said. “Geely is very open to us looking at any areas that we need to that helps us accelerate the business plan.”

As is the case for many other carmakers, Lotus is pivoting from the combustion engine and shifting its portfolio to electric vehicles. The long-awaited Emira sports car that the company will begin taking orders for in July will be its last gasoline-only model. Deliveries will begin next year.

The carmaker also is continuing discussions on a new electric sports-car platform it’s 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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