Lotus wants Carlton successor

Published: 07 August 2006

Lotus should engineer a new halo car like the legendary 176mph Carlton supersaloon, says the Norfolk firm's new boss.

The 377bhp Lotus-Carlton was produced on Mike Kimberley's last watch as CEO, from 1983 to 1991. He's now back in the hotseat, and on the lookout for a similar opportunity. 'We should be doing niche vehicles,' Kimberley told CAR Online. 'We have produced some exceptional vehicles with power-to-weight ratios that have been off the clock. The pinnacle was the Lotus-Carlton. It was a fabulous car. I would like to do more of this. 'By selecting the right car manufacturer and implanting Lotus DNA, we would have a win-win situation for both companies' brands and businesses.'

Kimberley certainly is blessed with good timing, assuming Lotus chooses to repeat the Carlton template. The all-new Vectra is due in 2008, although the third-generation car is not rear-wheel drive like the 1987 Carlton. However, the Vectra's Epsilon II platform is capable of four-wheel drive, potentially allowing an extraordinary, Audi RS-bothering power output. Another option is Ford's new Mondeo, which goes on sale in 2007. With it, Lotus could create a 21st century successor to the 1963 Lotus-Cortina, the original fast Ford immortalised by Jim Clark in the British Saloon Car Championship.

Kimberley has been brought back to turn around Group Lotus' finances. He has real pedigree, having steered the firm through choppy waters in the aftermath of founder Colin Chapman's 1982 death. Kimberley will soon complete a 90-day review into all aspects of the business, from forthcoming new models like the Esprit to the engineering consultancy's performance. 'If necessary, I will restructure the five-year business plan to secure the company's long-term future,' said Kimberley.

He is keen to expand the Lotus Cars line up. 'We need to be designing at least two new models.' One is a 2+2-seater sports car, positioned between the Elise/Exige and new Esprit. 'I would like to see a version of the Elise with a back seat, for families. It would be easy to get in and out of, comfortable but fun to drive with a paddleshift gearbox and very high performance.' Kimberley also expects the Lotus Engineering division to deliver four times its current yield. 'In 1990, engineering produced 60 percent of the revenue, and 95 percent of the profits. Today, Lotus Cars is producing 75 percent of the revenue, and up to 85 percent of the profits,' said Kimberley. But he vows that ratio will even out, and fast.

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

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