‘My dad borrowed a Bond car’ – Lotus veteran on life at the firm

Richard Hill

Spoiler alert: this story is mostly about aerodynamics. From downforce to drag, venturis to ventilation, and splitters to, yes, spoilers. 

If you don’t recognise Richard Hill, you’ll know his work: the Lotus Evija hypercar, for example, or the bicycle Chris Boardman rode to Olympic glory. These are just two highlights of a lifetime at Lotus, studying the science of speed.

Having joined Lotus in 1986, Richard has risen to the role of chief aerodynamicist (Chief Engineer of Aerodynamics and Thermal Management, to be exact).

Here, he talks through a remarkable career, ending with thoughts on where car design goes next. And it all started with ‘Wet Nellie’…

His dad borrowed Roger Moore’s underwater Esprit

Lotus Esprit

“I can remember the exact moment of deciding I wanted to work for Lotus,” reminisces Richard.

It was 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. But while Johnny Rotten sneered “there is no future in England’s dreaming,” Richard thought otherwise. He dreamed of being Bond, James Bond.

“My father was general manager for a paint company that supplied Lotus,” he explains. “Somehow, he managed to borrow the Esprit S1 from The Spy Who Loved Me, released that same year, for display at a show. I’ve no idea how he pulled it off.”

Known as ‘Wet Nellie’ and driven by Roger Moore, the aquatic Lotus captured the young Richard’s imagination. “It inspired me to pursue a career in cars.”

His first job for Lotus was a Corvette

Richard’s big break came nine years later – but his first job at Hethel wasn’t a Lotus.

After studying aeronautical engineering and composites at university (including work on the Ralt RT30 Formula 3 car) his wife-to-be spotted a recruitment ad for Lotus. “They were looking for engineers, so my first job wasn’t in aerodynamics.”

Instead, Richard was tasked with designing a torque tube for a Chevrolet Corvette concept – likely the 1986 Indy (pictured) or subsequent 1990 CERV III. Lotus, you will recall, was owned by General Motors at the time.

Both the Indy and CERV III were futuristic, mid-engined design studies. Ironically, it would be early 2020 before a mid-engined Corvette finally reached production.

‘Aerodynamics was very important to Colin Chapman’

Lotus Esprit and Colin Chapman

No car company is so inextricably linked with aerodynamics as Lotus. Along with ‘lightweighting’ (used as a verb at Hethel), it defines the marque’s approach to performance.

“Aerodynamics was very important to Colin Chapman,” says Richard. “In the Formula One world, Lotus pioneered the use of wings and ground-effect – with amazing success.”

The trophy cabinet at Classic Team Lotus (located opposite the new Evija production facility) includes silverware from seven F1 constructor’s championships, won between 1963 and 1978. 

Notable high-points include the 1963 Lotus 25 (the first racing car with a fully stressed monocoque chassis), 1968 Lotus 49 (the first to use an aerofoil wing) and 1977 Lotus 78 (the first with ground-effect downforce). All these innovations later appeared on Lotus road cars.

He helped design Team GB’s Olympic bike 

Lotus Engineering and Hope Technology track bike

“My claim to fame is being the second person Chris Boardman hugged when he won Olympic gold in Barcelona,” says Richard. “His wife was rightly first!”

The famous Lotus Type 108 bicycle used carbon composites and advanced aerodynamics, helping Boardman to gold in the 4,000m pursuit – and a new world record. “It was a good platform to demonstrate our engineering skill.”

Those skills were called upon again for Team GB’s latest track bike, a joint-project with Hope Technology. Pictured above with Ed Clancy, it’s a more conventional design than the revolutionary 108.

“Racing bike design took a big step backwards after the 108 and 110,” Richard explains. “We went from monocoque frames to a more traditional tubular, triangular design. That was dictated by regulations, and demands a different approach. With the 108, we aimed to separate the airflow around the bike from the rider. Now, we treat man and machine as one.”

Look out for the new two-wheeled Lotus at the postponed Tokyo Olympics in summer 2021.

The Esprit is very close to his heart

Lotus Esprit

Asking Richard to name his favourite Lotus elicits a long pause. So we settle for a selection of cars that have meant the most.

“The Type 18 in 1960 was the first true mid-engined Lotus Formula One car, which led to our first mid-engined road car: the Europa of 1967. My favourite of those was the JPS twin-cam special of the early 1970s. They were the genesis of all mid-engined Lotus sports cars.”

Despite his admiration for the Europa, though, I sense the Esprit tugs hardest at Richard’s heart strings. “I saw that car through much of its production life and had some amazing road trips. Believe it or not, we worked through 17 different rear wing designs between 1987 and 1993. Each one a nickname”.

Honourable mentions also go to the Elise (“The first Lotus engineered with zero lift. We spent so many hours in the wind tunnel”) and Evora (“It developed our dynamic handling strategy”). 

‘Lotus looks at aerodynamics differently’

Wet Nellie

“Most companies focus their efforts on drag reduction: achieving a low Cd figure. That’s what car buyers tend to look at”.

A low coefficient of drag helps reduce fuel consumption and increase top speed. However, as Richard explains, Lotus looks at the bigger picture.

“Inspired by motorsport, the balance of downforce and lift is our main priority. It’s about high-speed stability, both in a straight line and when cornering. We minimise drag where we can, but that’s our secondary focus.”

This philosophy is taken to extremes in the new Evija, a car that “literally breathes the air”.

The Evija is ‘a fighter jet in a world of kites’

Lotus Evija

Unless you have seen self-isolating for the past year, you’ll know the 2,000hp Lotus Evija is the most powerful production ever. The £2 million electric hypercar will hit 62mph in ‘less than three seconds’ and exceed 200mph.  

Such performance requires a radical approach to aerodynamics. “The front acts like a mouth. It ingests the air, sucks every kilogram of value from it – in this case, the downforce – then exhales it through that dramatic rear end.” 

The word “porosity” crops up frequently, particularly with reference to the dramatic rear venturis. “Without them, the Evija would be like a parachute, with them it’s a butterfly net. And they make the car unique in the hypercar world.”

Lotus hasn’t revealed drag or downforce figures for the Evija yet, but it goes way beyond conventional sports cars. “It’s like comparing a fighter jet to a child’s kite,’’ says Richard.

Electric tech will change the shape of cars

Lotus Evija

Few cars will harness airflow like the Evora – “It wouldn’t be possible in a car you drive to the supermarket with a family of five” – but elements of its design will appear on future Lotus models.

“We’ve learned a lot from this project,” Richard adds, “and some of its aerodynamic concepts will be carried forward.” 

Indeed, Richard is excited about the future of car design in a world increasingly populated by EVs. “Packaging an electric car is very different. You don’t have a bulky engine and cooling system to accommodate. There’s more freedom.”

With huge investment from parent company Geely and a new Esprit due in 2021, the future looks bright for Hethel. And thanks to Richard and his team, the forthcoming range of cars should stay faithful to Lotus’ aero-led legacy.

Who knows, maybe even 007 will place an order. The Evija would look awesome as submarine…

Also read

Lotus Elise Cup 250 (2020) review

‘Driving is in our DNA’: Lotus CEO on future sports cars

We reunite TV star Lotus Cortina with its overjoyed owner

Lotus fans can now lease a new 2020 Evora GT in the USA

A new partnership between Lotus Cars USA and Premier Financial Services means leasing a 2020 Evora GT can now be a reality.

It adds another option for those in the United States looking to acquire the 188 mph Lotus sports car.

Widening the finance choices is part of the strategy for Lotus to expand sales in North America. Canadian customers are due to receive details of their own finance offers soon.

Carrying less financial weight

Lotus gives the example of leasing the $96,950 Evora GT over a 39-month deal. This would see the customer pay out $1,099 per month. 

This requires an initial outlay of $12,093, including a $9,990 down payment and a security deposit of $1,100. Fees of $995 (or $1,495 in New York state) are also part of the upfront cost.

Other down payments can be arranged, offering customers wider options on monthly payments. 

With 416 horsepower, the Evora GT is currently the fastest and most powerful road-going Lotus sold in North America, using a supercharged 3.5-litre V-6 engine. A manual six-speed transmission is standard, with a paddle-shift automatic unit also available.

Part of the bigger picture

Lotus is currently looking to widen its presence in the United States, ahead of the launch of the all-electric Evija hypercar later this year. The battery-powered Evija will offer the potential for almost 2,000 horsepower. 

Speaking about the new lease offerings Ryan Watson, Lotus Cars USA President, said: “This is a significant moment for Lotus Cars in North America. We are making another positive progression in the development of our brand within this pivotal market.”

Watson also added that: “A robust finance offer gives us the ability to service our loyal enthusiast base, and importantly reach a whole new audience too. We look forward to introducing Lotus to the wider market.”


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‘Holy Grail’ Lotus Esprit Turbo HC for sale

1987 LOTUS Esprit Turbo HC front angle 2

Fast Lane magazine described the Lotus Esprit Turbo HC as ‘the most exciting road Lotus to date’. Autocar said it was a ‘remarkably satisfying device’.

In short, the final incarnation of the Giugiaro-styled Lotus Esprit was the best yet. It was also the Esprit that was able to give the Ferrari 328 and Porsche 924 Turbo a bloodied nose.

‘HC’ stands for higher compression – this car features an uprated version of the familiar 2,174cc turbocharged engine that went on to appear in the Peter Stevens-designed Esprit of 1987. It is, then, a bridge between the Esprit of old and new.

Harry’s Game

1987 LOTUS Esprit Turbo HC rear angle

Esprit Turbo HC production numbers vary depending on the source – Harry Metcalfe says around 300 were built – but the version being sold by The Market is rarer still. It’s one of 21 built to celebrate 21 years of Lotus production at Hethel.

The Market has estimated the value at £40,000 to £50,000, but with the auction closing in four days, the current highest bid is £26,250. There’s no reserve, so you could grab a bargain.

This particular example left the factory on 27 February 1987 and was sold new by the Norfolk Motor Company in Norwich. It later travelled to Portugal where it spent 14 years as part of a private collection, but returned to the UK in 2018.

One of the ‘Holy Grails’

1987 LOTUS Esprit Turbo HC steering wheel

The paintwork displays the car’s unique number, and there’s a sterling silver plaque on the inside. You even get a two-tone briefcase and three-piece wheeled luggage complete with Concorde luggage tag. This is a car for high-fliers. 

Tristan Judge, director of The Market, said: “This Lotus Esprit Turbo HC is in staggeringly good condition – one of the best, if not the best, example of its type. As such a rare car and in such fantastic condition, it will be ideal for gentle use or as the centrepiece of a classic car collection. These rare models are one of the ’Holy Grails’ of any modern Lotus collection.

“For collectors, this limited edition car has all the original additional items you’d want and expect. The fact that these have survived with the car since 1987 is a small but important insight into how well it has been conserved over the past 33 years.”

The auction closes at 19:30 on 13 April 2020. Click here for more information or to place a bid.


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Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

We reunite TV star Lotus Cortina with its overjoyed owner

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years onSome people remember names, others never forget a face. A select few of us even recall our online passwords. Rob Jones, though, has an uncanny memory for car number plates. Hey, we all need a party trick.

Rob knows the registration marks of every car he’s ever owned, from the MG Midget he bought after passing his test to the Seat Leon Cupra he drives today. And one of those remembered registrations – FGF 113C – led to an emotional reunion with the car he owned 44 years ago.

Like many great love stories, our tale begins on a sofa in front of the telly. The show was Car SOS, and presenters Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw were battling to restore a Mk1 Ford Cortina GT from little more than a bare shell.

Made in Dagenham

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Seeking inspiration, the team visited Ford’s heritage workshop in Dagenham. Their mission: to drive the GT’s big brother: the legendary Lotus Cortina. Rob nearly fell off his sofa. The immaculate white-and-green classic, hailed by Tim as “a sensation of the era”, had the same number plate as a Lotus Cortina he’d bought in 1976.

“It had to be the same car,” explains Rob, “but I searched through my old photos to be sure.” The Polaroid print he found proved it beyond doubt. There was Rob, in glorious faded sepia, wearing a pair of turned-up flares and leaning on a Lotus Cortina, registration: FGF 113C.

The Ford heritage workshop is usually off-limits to the public, so Rob contacted Motoring Research – having seen our gallery feature on the Dagenham collection. A few excited emails later, Rob had a date in Dagenham. Even better, it was on his birthday.

From road to racetrack

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Before our heart-warming ‘boy meets car’ moment, a few words on the Lotus Cortina. This skunkworks special was launched in 1963 and is arguably the first fast Ford. It packs a 106hp 1.6-litre Lotus engine and close-ratio Ford gearbox, clothed in lightweight alloy panels.

Tipping the scales at just 826kg, the Lotus Cortina reached 60mph in 9.9 seconds, plus a top speed of 108mph. It was an instant hit on the racetrack, with Jim Clark winning the British Saloon Car title in 1964, then Alan Mann Racing clinching the European title in 1965.

A total of 3,301 Mk1 Lotus Cortinas were built before the squarer Mk2 arrived in 1967. By this point, well-publicised reliability problems and the launch of the Escort Twin Cam meant the Cortina’s star was fading. But it has gone supernova since, with prices for concours examples stretching well into six figures.

Show some appreciation

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob negotiated a rather better deal. “I paid £370 for my Cortina,” he laughs, “then sold it for £500 eight months later. I didn’t own it long as I kept having problems with the starter motor. The ring gears would slip or jam – I ended up replacing them about once a month.”

There are no such issues when, four decades on, Rob twists the key of his old car. The twin-cam engine bursts raucously into life, its throaty bark reverberating off the walls of Ford’s workshop – a huge warehouse that used to be a truck factory. Rob’s smile says it all.

“This brings it all back,” he beams. “I was a Lotus fanatic, but I couldn’t afford an Elan – so this was my dream car at the time. It’s been lowered a couple of inches since I owned it, but otherwise nothing much has changed.”

For the custodians of Ford’s heritage fleet, Rob’s visit provides a valuable chance to fill in the blanks about this Cortina’s history. “We don’t know much about the car before it came to us,” they admit.

A Christmas crash

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

One story in particular raises a few eyebrows. “Yeah, I crashed it,” admits Rob. “I’d just finished my Christmas shopping. I pulled out of a pub car park in Newbury [sober, he adds] and got sideswiped by an Austin 1100. It ploughed into the nearside wing and I ended up paying a £25 fine as it was his right of way.”

On the rain-drenched roads of Dagenham, Rob is being extra-careful: “I didn’t want to push it in the wet. I’m very conscious the car is worth a few quid more than when I owned it.”

It’s clear Rob loves being back behind the skinny wooden wheel, though. “It’s just lovely. I remember that twin-cam sound – and the smell. But the steering is so heavy compared to a modern car. You need muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger to do a three-point turn.”

A great motoring memory

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob has owned many cars over the past 44 years, including several self-built Ginetta sports cars, but the Cortina is the one he wishes he’d kept. “Just being back behind the wheel felt special. I’d have another, definitely. I just need to discover one in a barn.”

Seeing Rob reunited with his Lotus Cortina reaffirmed our belief that cars are more than just transport. They bookend periods in our lives, our memories of past journeys and destinations inexorably linked to the vehicles we travelled in.

For Rob, driving the car he owned in 1976 is the closest he’ll get to time travel. And unlike his flares, the Lotus Cortina hasn’t aged a day.

Cost of servicing Lotus Elise halved

The cost of servicing a Lotus Elise has halved

Cost of servicing Lotus Elise halved

Lotus has cut the cost of servicing by an average of 37 percent across its range. As a result, it costs £270 for the first service on a Lotus Elise Sport 220 – down from £554.

The cost of servicing an Exige or Evora has also been reduced, with Lotus also slashing the cost of 50 regular servicing components. The list includes filters, plugs, drive belts and fluids. The price cuts are available at all 27 UK dealers, but Lotus says the initiative could be rolled out in other global markets.

The Lotus Elise Sport 220 is the company’s best-selling model. The entry-level Elise is powered by a 1.8-litre supercharged engine developing 217hp at 6,800rpm and 184lb ft of torque at 4,600rpm. As a result, the 924kg Lotus Elise will hit 60mph in 4.2 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 145mph.

Not that there’s anything ‘entry-level’ about the price. The Lotus Elise Sport 220 costs £41,665, which is around £8,000 less than the Elise Cup 250.

Finance on the Sport 220 is relatively affordable, but you’ll need to find a punchy £12,140 for the deposit. After that, you’ll pay £369 a month for four years, with an optional final payment of £16,323. Still, in this age of self-isolating and social distancing, a Lotus Elise is a fine way to get away from it all.

‘Driving down the cost of ownership’

Lotus slashes servicing costs

Indeed, Lotus says that residual values are on the up. Figures from CAP show that the value of a three-year-old Lotus Evora GT410 Sport have risen by 15 percent to 56 percent.

Cheaper servicing, more affordable parts and stronger residual values – still want that dull and boring compact crossover?

Chris Hinks, director of aftersales at Lotus, said: “This change is fantastic news for our customers, who can now benefit from the servicing expertise of a Lotus retailer for even less money. We’re driving down the cost of ownership and saving people money.”

Hand-built in Norfolk: Lotus readies factory for new Evija hypercar

Lotus Evija factory

Lotus is in the final stages of completing its high-tech new assembly hall for the 2,000hp all-electric Evija hypercar. Production should begin this summer. 

First, though, final prototypes will need to be assembled on the line for the last round of testing and quality control. Following this, customer cars will be built and delivered.

The ‘hall’ as Lotus calls it, was unveiled by Lotus CEO Phil Popham in front of 1,400 employees in Hethel, Norfolk. The facility nears completion after work began in summer of 2019, making this a quick turnaround. It has three sides, with gantries that frame the build stations. There’s an overhead crane, plus vehicle lifts and a wheel alignment ramp.

Lotus Evija factory

Not wanting to leave its skilled hypercar assembly team in the dark, Lotus had 30,000 LED lights installed to illuminate the facility. Before venturing out into the world, all Evijas will be subject to inspection in a new light tunnel. They’ll then head out onto the marque’s very own 2.2-mile test track for dynamic validation.

Lotus wants to hand-build 130 examples of the Evija at the facility – and the first year’s allocation of cars is sold out. There are, however, cars left to sell. If you want your very own example of what is currently the world’s most powerful hypercar, get your name down.

Lotus Evija factory

“With our new factory ready, we are ahead of the pack in the emerging EV hypercar segment and 100% ready for some healthy competition,” said Popham

“This is now the newest car production facility in the world, and to witness it move from the drawing board to reality has been deeply satisfying. It’s testament to the commitment of all involved, and is the perfect sleek and high-tech production home for the Evija at our iconic Hethel headquarters.”

Evija and a reborn Lotus

Lotus Evija factory

The Evija is the first all-new model to come from Lotus following its acquisition by Chinese company, Geely. It’s the first of many electric Lotuses to come, with more affordable models to follow.

Four electric motors, one for each wheel, deliver 500hp apiece. The 0-62mph sprint takes less than three seconds, with 186mph in less than nine. Top speed is projected to be over 200mph.

The battery is capable of being charged in under 10 minutes at maximum speed, with a driving range of 250 miles. The Evija name means ‘the first in existence’. 

Lotus Evija factory

Phil Popham told MR’s Tim Pitt the ‘For The Drivers’ tagline is “more than just a marketing statement. It also defines how we develop new models. Lotus is all about the enjoyment of driving”.

Lotus is alive and well, then, with its identity intact and real money behind it. Exciting times indeed.

Finally, if you didn’t already know, it’s pronounced ‘Ev-eye-ya’.

Lotus produces special Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition – just for Oz

Lotus Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition

Lotus has announced a new special edition model, intended to celebrate the famous Bathurst 12 Hour endurance race.  

Intended only for Australian customers, the Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition also honours the association between the Lotus brand and the Bathurst circuit. 

It means the Bathurst race will maintain a strong British association during 2020. This new Lotus follows the success of the Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3 winning the recent endurance race in dramatic fashion.

Motorsport pedigree included

Lotus Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition

Although Lotus did not enter the 2020 Bathurst 12 Hour race, various models have competed at the Mount Panorama event. This has included class wins for the Exige Cup R model at the 2014 and 2015 races. 

The new Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition has less power than those racers. But it still maintains a healthy 181 kW (245 hp) from the mid-mounted 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder engine. 

That is sufficient to allow the 931 kg Elise to accelerate from 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in just 4.2 seconds. Shifting through the six-speed manual gearbox can see a potential top speed of over 248 km/h (150 mph). On a track, of course.

Ready for track use

Lotus Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition

Being used on track is the prime motivation for the Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition. After 150 Lotus fans watched the racing at the 2020 Bathurst 12 Hour, many then took to the track in their own cars to experience Mount Panorama. 

On-site mentoring allowed drivers to get the most out of their cars, with hot laps also on offer from professional Lotus drivers. 

Australia was the sixth-largest market for Lotus cars during 2019, with David McIntyre, Regional Director, Asia Pacific & China, commenting that with “stand-out events such as the Lotus-only track day, we will continue to build the brand across Australia”.

Exclusive upgrades

Lotus Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition

For the few lucky buyers who grab a Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition, there are notable upgrades over the regular Cup 250 model. 

Special decals can be found on the exterior, incorporating an outline of the iconic Mount Panorama circuit. Black forged alloy wheels are also included for the Bathurst Edition, fitted with sticky Yokohama Advan rubber.

Most important of all is the numbered plaque fitted to each of the finished cars. The press image suggests just six examples will be built, meaning interested Lotus fans may need to move quickly. 

Lotus Elise Cup 250 Bathurst Edition

Lotus has not confirmed the exact number of Bathurst Edition cars to be built, or pricing for them. At present, the regular Elise Cup 250 has a retail price of $107,990 in Australia (around £56,000). 

All Lotus cars supplied in Australia come with the ‘333’ package. This includes free servicing and roadside assistance for three years, along with a three-year warranty. 

The Bathurst Edition is exclusively for customers Down Under. Having recently tested the Cup 250 in the UK, we can only look on in envy.

New £82,900 Lotus Evora GT410 is ‘exceptional value’

Lotus Evora GT410

The new Lotus Evora GT410 costs £3,000 less than the GT410 Sport. And at £82,900, it represents ‘exceptional value for money‘. Not our words, but the words of a Lotus press release.

Everything is relative, right? Lotus says it has designed the entry-level Evora GT410 ‘to be a more usable everyday car’.

To this end, the Evora GT410 comes with Sparco seats and air conditioning, plus a reversing camera to help with parking.

Apple CarPlay is standard, as is DAB digital radio. Lotus has also improved the sound insulation to reduce road noise. It’s more ‘just add luxury’ than ‘just add lightness‘.

Evora GT410: just add armrests

Lotus Evora GT410 interior

Inside you’ll find integrated armrests and storage bins ‘for greater comfort and practicality’. Time to cancel that order for the Nissan Qashqai, this is the daily driver we’ve been waiting for.

There’s more. Lotus has revised the damper rate compared with the GT410 Sport to create a more comfortable ride. A set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S all-weather tyres will ensure the Evora needn’t be confined to the garage when the weather turns British.

At the back, a larger glass section in the tailgate will make it easier to reverse out of a garage. You can’t only rely on that camera, after all.

Further standard equipment includes cruise control, heated seats and rear parking sensors.

Lotus Evora GT410 launched

If you’re not ready for the soft-focus Evora, Lotus has revised the standard specification of the GT410 Sport. Upgrades include the integration of Sparco sports seats, air conditioning and a premium infotainment system.

Not to be left out, the Elise and Exige can be ordered with optional Touring and Sport packs. As the names suggest, one is for enhanced road use, while the other is designed for track-based frolics.

‘Driving is in our DNA’: Lotus CEO on future sports cars

After years on life support, Lotus is on the brink of something big. In 2017, this iconic British brand was taken over by Geely, the Chinese automotive giant that also owns Volvo. The new flagship Lotus Evija – the world’s most powerful road car – was revealed last summer and ambitious plans are afoot for a whole range of sports and luxury cars. We visit the Lotus factory at Hethel, Norfolk, and speak to CEO Phil Popham about what comes next.

Tell us about your career so far.

I joined the motor industry straight from university in 1988 – as a graduate trainee at Land Rover. I spent 25 years there, including stints in South Africa and the USA, with my final nine years on the executive committee. In 2014, I moved to [luxury yacht maker] Sunseeker, another famous British brand. The business was facing some headwinds, so to speak, but I led a turnaround back into profit. Then, in October 2018, I started here at Lotus.

What attracted you to the top job at Lotus?

The opportunity to rejuvenate Lotus was one I couldn’t turn down. I had an Esprit on my bedroom wall as a teenager and the brand has such a rich heritage The commitment and investment from Geely certainly attracted me, and indeed others from premium automotive backgrounds. We’ve got a really exciting business plan. Also, once you’ve been in the motor industry, as I have for most of my career, it’s in your blood. There’s something very special about it.

How have you found working with Geely?

I was on the board with Chery Automobile at Land Rover, and Sunseeker is owned by Wanda Group, so I have experience of working with Chinese companies. But I did my due-diligence before starting this role, flying to Hangzhou and meeting the senior team at Geely. The chairman, Li Shufu, has so much enthusiasm for the brand and the commitment of the senior team was obvious. The backing of the fastest-growing automotive company in the world – not just in terms of investment, but also capability and technology – is hugely beneficial for Lotus.

How will Lotus develop under Geely ownership?

Volvo is the obvious case-study here. It’s been very successful under Geely, but remains as Swedish as it ever was. The London Electric Vehicle Company [LEVC, maker of the London black cab] is another Geely brand that has flourished. And the same will be true for Lotus. In terms of working together, we use video conferencing a lot and I visit China four times a year. We have access to a sweet shop of resources. But Lotus contributes to the group, too – with our expertise in lightweighting, aerodynamics and chassis dynamics.

How would you define the brand values of Lotus?

We’ve done a lot of work on the DNA of the brand. Going back to the days of Colin Chapman, we are pioneering, intuitive and innovative. Our British heritage is important, too. The ‘For The Drivers’ tagline is more than just a marketing statement; it also defines how we develop new models. Lotus is all about the enjoyment of driving.

How is the £2 million Lotus Evija relevant to the real world?

Obviously, the Evija isn’t a volume product. But it makes a statement that Lotus is back, and showcases the capability we have here at Hethel. It’s the first all-British electric hypercar: sensational in terms of design, but also technology. It will inform our design language for the future – and electrification is also a statement about where Lotus is going.

What comes next in the product plan – and when?

Our next sports car will have an internal combustion engine and arrive towards the end of 2020. Beyond that, every new Lotus models will offer electrification, which means great benefits for packaging and weight distribution. We have many people working on new platforms, including at our new engineering office in Warwick, but they typically take at least four years to develop. For now, Lotus is focused on sports cars, although we believe the brand has enough strength and equity to move into other segments.

Will consultancy still be an important part of Lotus’ business?

Absolutely. We will do some work for Geely, but the aim for the consultancy arm is to work for other businesses, including outside the car industry. Our capabilities are relevant in many sectors: the recent collaboration with Hope on the Great Britain track team bike for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, for example.

Any chance of a return to F1 racing – or perhaps Formula E?

I’m not ruling anything out. Our first offering will be the Evora GT4, the prototype of which went up the hill at Goodwood last summer. That will race this year in a customer series. Formula One is incredibly expensive and our focus, at the moment, is on producing new platforms and new cars. Competitive racing is something we want to be part of in the future, though.

How about a renewed association between Lotus and James Bond?

Ha! We’ve been in a couple of movies so far and it’s a great British institution. Certainly, there’s a great fit between Bond and a British brand like Lotus. But there are no concrete plans at present.

Which brands will be the main rivals for Lotus?

I try not to draw comparators. Lotus is unique as a brand and we don’t want to be followers, we want to be pioneers. The one that often gets quoted to me is Porsche. It has been very successful at having a distinct identity, growing as a business and making money. We’ve got aspirations to grow as they have, but we’ll do things our own way.

Where do you see Lotus in 10 years’ time?

We actually have a plan called Vision 80, which takes us to our 80th anniversary in 2028. By then, I hope people will be using Lotus as a case study for a good car business. We’ll certainly produce a series of cars in different sectors. But I’m absolutely adamant that, both in terms of how they look and how they perform, they will stay true to the Lotus DNA.

Watch the 2,000hp Lotus Evija drift in video debut

Lotus Evija dynamic debut

Lotus has been busy testing its Evija electric hypercar. Covered in camouflage, it can be seen in action at a circuit, getting very out of shape in a new video. This represents the car’s dynamic world debut.

The film was shown at the Evija’s Chinese launch at the Guangzhou Auto Show, where Lotus confirmed that production will start in 2020. Nonetheless, the car still has a great deal of dynamic development ahead, both at Lotus’ home circuit of Hethel, as well as other tracks and, of course, on the road.

The car in the film is engineering prototype number two. We assume that follows on directly from the show car Lotus revealed in the summer.

Until this point, much of the Evija’s development has taken place on computers, including dynamic load and suspension simulations. 

As a reminder, the target power output is 2,000hp, and it should hit 62mph in less than three seconds. Zero to 186mph will be dispatched in less than nine seconds, with top speed beyond 200mph.

“Physical prototype testing at speed is a landmark moment for the Evija and hugely exciting for everyone involved,” said Gavan Kershaw, director of vehicle attributes at Lotus.

“Our aim is to make sure it’s a true Lotus in every sense, with exceptional performance that’s going to set new standards in the hypercar sector.”

Lotus Evija dynamic debut

“Everything about the Evija is ‘For The Drivers’,” said Matt Windle, executive director of engineering, speaking at the Guangzhou show.

“I don’t believe there is another EV in the world that can claim this. From the mid-engined-inspired Lotus layout, to the aerodynamics and downforce, the driving position, vehicle stance and unbelievable performance. It is instantly recognisable as special with a unique character, yet it is unquestionably a Lotus.”