Lotus electric city car (2009) the first photos

Published: 17 July 2009

Lotus Engineering has turned its hand to city car design, and has produced this innovative electric vehicle concept, pitched at the urban driver of 2015. At just 2600mm in length and 1600mm wide, the Lotus supermini is even smaller than a Toyota iQ, but manages to match the Toyota’s 3+1 layout.

How is the Lotus city car concept different from other EVs?

The crucial aspect of the design is the aluminium spaceframe in the floor, which houses the batteries and electrical gubbins, while also providing stiffness and crash resistance. The Lotus supermini has been designed specifically for short trips in urban environments, so weight has been saved by limiting the battery pack to 100 lithium ion cells with a total capacity of 10kWh and a charge time of 3.5 hours. 

The battery load is flexible, though, and an additional 100 cells can be added through the floor for increased range, or during the winter when battery performance drops off. Other innovations include solar panels on the roof to supplement battery power, magnesium-cast doors which slide open on special hinges, and the use of composite energy absorbers which turn to dust at impact for improved crumpling in a crash.

That’s not a lot of battery power! Will the Lotus supermini get me to the shops and back?

As long as you live within 15 miles of your greengrocer it will. Total range is just over 30 miles and the 37kW motor allows a top speed of around 65mph. It should be reasonably perky up to 40mph. Those aren’t big numbers but this car has been designed for purpose, and most owners are expected to have a conventional car on the driveway too for longer, faster journeys.

Does it handle like a Lotus should?

Not likely, but given the boxy dimensions, Lotus has done its best by minimising overhang at both ends and using lightweight materials including composites, aluminium and magnesium throughout the design. Head of vehicle architecture Richard Rackham insists this EV would still be a giggle to drive: ‘We wanted to make this thing a bit nippy and fun to get people into it.’

Talking of getting into the Lotus supermini, how do I get into that tiny back seat?

If you don’t call shotgun, the driver’s seat pushes right forward and underneath the steering wheel for easier access. Alternatively, the back seats can be folded down to make space for luggage. Designer Jon Statham relished the chance to shake things up. ‘The interior gave us a chance to rethink things,’ choosing composite materials with mesh panels for the seats.

Controls on the inside are very simple – a panel of buttons to the left of the steering wheel and a paddle on the right with which to choose forwards, backwards or neutral. Lotus expects that personal media devices like iPods and mobile phones will be advanced enough by 2015 to control all in-car media via a docking station.

The new baby Lotus sure looks sleek for a city car...

The Lotus concept is actually quite a bit taller than the Toyota iQ and the Smart Fortwo, but the designers have extended the lines on each side of the car to the front, creating a wraparound effect that makes it seem stouter. Two versions of the exterior styling were produced, one of which uses golf ball-style dimples to exaggerate the swathes which run diagonally across the sides and on to the front. LED lights reinforce the futuristic looks.

Are they going to build it?

Probably not. Which is a pity. Lotus was asked to produce the city car design as a study for Automotive Engineer magazine – but it could be further developed for manufacture by a third party. It took Hethel’s draftsmen just two weeks to produce the concept, 10% of the time usually spent on the first phase of development. Let’s hope they get paid overtime.

>> Should we lobby Lotus to build the supermini? Or bin it? Click 'Add your comment'

>> Click here to see Automotive Engineer's video on the Lotus mini project

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