x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Lotus in race against time to produce five new models

Former AMG engineer Wolf Zimmerman admits to Michael Taylor that it's been far from plain sailing since joining the British car maker in September last year and that the clock is ticking.

The Lotus Esprit was one of five new cars presented by the British sports car maker at the Paris Auto Show last year. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg
The Lotus Esprit was one of five new cars presented by the British sports car maker at the Paris Auto Show last year. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg

British-owned sports car maker Lotus is in a race against time to develop an all-new V8 engine and an all-new gearbox after overhauling its ambitious plans for a five-strong new product assault.

The Lotus engineering leader, Wolf Zimmerman, has confirmed that the company did not have the engineering to put behind the model and celebrity-ridden launch of five new models at last year's Paris Motor Show.

The revelation has forced the company to admit it had to dramatically change tack to meet its goal of 10,000 cars a year by 2016.

Furthermore, Zimmerman's engineering review has forced the company into "racing style" development programmes for the engine and the gearbox to meet a new-model timeline that includes a V8 Esprit at 2013's Geneva Motor Show, a new Elite at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show, a new Elise in 2015, a four-door Elite in late 2015 and a four-seat Elan coupe in 2017 to replace the Evora.

Insisting that the new V8 already runs on the dynamometer, Zimmerman was candid about Lotus being forced to play catch-up once it understood its post-Paris problems.

"We could easily give the specifications we need to a gearbox supplier and, three or four years later, like a normal company, we would get it done," he says.

"But we don't have three or four years. We are doing everything as fast as doing it for racing.

"What we at first need is to bring Lotus back on the right track and that's the kind of development we have been forced into now.

"We do a real bespoke Lotus 'box and it's a new concept layout and that's really cool. Everything is more or less developed, so parts of it will have been seen before, but it's a special configuration to run our cars."

Zimmerman adds: "If we see McLaren, Lamborghini or Ferrari, we see that it's a competitive area. We have to be able to run our cars in the way we see a Lotus car in the future.

"We will finish the design phase of the gearbox at the end of September and the engine design is finished, and it's also easy to turn the V8 into a V6, but we just canned the Elan so we don't need a V6 right now."

While the engine runs, industry sources insist it doesn't run at the company's base in Hethel, near Norwich.

Instead, it's being developed on a dynamometer near Stuttgart with the help of several German companies including Mahle, because the dyno at Lotus is rooted in the technology of another era. But while the development of the engine became an urgent priority, Zimmerman found even bigger problems when he joined the company from AMG in September 2010.

"The first thing was the review of the future projects. The projects that were shown in Paris, there was not one section of the S3 concept that we are still running. That's how much we had to do."

"It was not possible or feasible to do it in production the way it had been designed," the former AMG engineering guru admits.

"With all the styling, there was no link with the engineering, and it was not possible to integrate all these nice parts.

"If you look to the Elite, if you put the supercharger on the V6 from Toyota it will stick out of the hood.

"If you don't have an active front hood you need at least 180mm between the engine and the hood for pedestrian safety laws. Imagine that with a front-engine supercharger?"

Admitting to some seriously uncomfortable times in his first months at Lotus, Zimmerman says he was almost cringing when he addressed the Lotus board after his engineering review.

"They had the new technology concept and I had to tell the board that it's really not possible to do everything they announced at the Paris show.

"You can imagine that; coming in as the new guy and telling the board that it really does not work. Nobody had worked with the business plan. We brought some new people inside and had to convince Proton [Lotus's owners] to be patient."

And, while lightweight design is an entrenched part of the Lotus DNA, he insists there are gains to be made with the existing line-up.

"When you put a V6 in the Evora, it's already not light and the weight of the Evora could be improved and it will be. But if you put a 300kg, fully dressed engine, then a gearbox with hybrid potentiality, then it's 600kg wasted through the powertrain alone."