Proton orders Lotus to ditch lightweight ethos and head upmarket

Lotus will ditch its lightweight ethos and begin to produce more upmarket models as it attempts to challenge Porsche and Ferrari in the premium sports car segment.

That was the verdict in Malaysia this week as Proton unveiled an ambitious five-year business plan for the British manufacturer.

In an effort to return Lotus to profitability, the company will be forced from its current position as a builder of niche performance cars and adopt a strategy based on a new motto: ''Tomorrow's luxury sports car, today''.

This radically different philosophy will mean that Lotus begins to build vastly more expensive and complicated cars than it has done so under the Colin Chapman ethos of 'just add lightness'. Future models are predicted to cost £80,000 - £110,000 and will introduce seven-speed twin clutch transmissions, continuously variable dampers, active aerodynamics, hybrid systems and even alternative fuelling, such as alcohol.

Lotus has seen substantial management changes in the past year as Proton Chairman Datuk Mohd Nadzmi Mohd Salleh began assembling the team he believes are capable of taking the manufacturer in a bold new direction.

Many former employees of Lotus's new competitors have been absorbed into the company, including ex-Ferrari man Dany Bahar, who was appointed CEO of the Lotus Group last October.

The new management team will be responsible for spearheading the five-year plan which intends to raise sales from around 2500 a year to between 6000 and 8000. This will include an expansion into 25 countries where Lotus currently has no presence at all.

The ambitious number will be bolstered by a new Lotus city car, which will be based on the EMAS concept that Italian design house Giugiaro previewed for Proton at Geneva this year.

The Lotus version will share its platform and mechanical setup with the resulting Proton city car; only the exterior and interior styling will be altered, drawing inevitable comparisons with the Aston Martin Cygnet and Toyota iQ.

The future for the rest of Lotus's line-up should become clearer in September, when the company will detail the evolution of its brand. As it has picked the Paris motor show to make this announcement, expect to see at least one new concept car on the manufacturer's stand.

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