New Lotus SUV: first test mule spotted

Published: 24 June 2019

► New Lotus SUV due in 2022
Volvo/Geely Swedish know-how
► But what will Lotus faithful think?

Lotus is in the midst of developing its first SUV in collaboration with its Geely owners and sister brands Volvo and Lynk & Co.

The Lotus SUV was confirmed in the last interview previous CEO Jean-Marc Gales gave just before he quit in 2018. Lotus's new boss, Phil Popham, also nodded to Hethel building a new SUV.

‘The brand has the potential to go beyond sports cars – and that includes an SUV,' he told CAR in June 2019, 'but we have to make sure it’s true to the brand. We are not going to stick a Lotus badge on someone else’s product. We have access to a lot of technology, resources and platforms as part of Geely. An SUV could be on a group-derived platform but engineered for Lotus.’

These latest spy shots don't look like a Lotus...

No, they don't. Given Lotus is part of the Geely group, it appears to be using a Lynk & Co. 01 SUV body shell to hide what's underneath. 

What we can glean from the images is that the wheelarches have been chopped up and the wheelbase itself appears to have a wider track than that of the Lynk & Co model. It makes sense that Lotus will be going for larger wheels and a wider footprint than that of what the Geely architecture has already used.

Lotus SUV Lynk mule rear

The biggest question is the extent to which the Lotus SUV's powertrain will be electrified. Most notably, these new images show electric warning stickers and no visible exhaust. The former confirms that the new Lotus SUV will at the very least be electrified but, with the latter not being there at all, could the SUV be fully-electric like the Type 130 hypercar?

If it were meant to be a hybrid, a light PHEV powertrain like the Volvo XC60 T8 could be on the cards, as might something more modest, such as Merc's EQ Boost. The 'four-door' (Lotus's begrudging code for SUV) may use a modified Volvo four-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive and an aluminium and carbon construction.

Will the Lotus SUV be built at Hethel?

Logic dictates this won't be the case. The Hethel facility’s production capacity of around 5000 units is not enough for the kind of volumes associated with a successful SUV.

While the existing HQ will remain the base of operations for its performance cars, the crossover is likely to be built in Geely’s new plant in Wuhan, China, which will be outfitted to build internal combustion, hybrid and electric vehicles across Geely’s portfolio.

Why is Lotus readying crossovers?

Lotus sales have been around 1500 a year for the past few years, but Gales expected them to top 3000 when the new 'four-door' arrives. Given Hethel’s production capacity stretches to 5000, there’s still headroom for a supercar, but industrial logic may propel the more practical (read: SUV) Lotus out of Norfolk and into the Volvo production network. After all, the cars will share components, though they won’t be spun wholesale off Volvo’s SPA platform underpinning the 60 and 90 vehicle ranges. 

‘I wouldn’t talk about a platform: that’s nothing more than a set of components, perhaps 30 to 80 main modules,' Gales told CAR magazine. 'These are components Lotus can share, it can be an engine, an autonomous radar system, a wiring harness which can be adapted to the cars.’

Jean-Marc Gales left Lotus in summer 2018 to run JD Classics

Gales expected Lotus to intelligently adapt components from SPA or the XC40’s smaller CMA architecture, built into cars with distinct bodies, interiors and engine tuning.

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Target Porsche: why the Lotus SUV will be aimed at the X6 and Cayenne

One of the ‘four-door Lotus’ SUVs is likely to target Porsche’s flagship 4x4, the Cayenne, and BMW X6, costing £80,000-£100,000. Although it should share electrical systems and autonomous driving aids with Volvo, it won’t be anything like an XC90, according to the former boss.

‘It would still be lowest in its class, maybe the widest in its class to hold the road well, certainly the lightest, certainly the best on track.’ Gales admired Alfa Romeo’s execution of the Stelvio, but Lotus’s four-door is still in its early stages, with launch three to four years away. ‘It needs to feel, drive and look like a Lotus,’ he vowed.

Earlier Lotus 4x4 plans

It's not the first time we've heard plans for a Lotus SUV. Back in 2015 we reported on a strategy that looked to collaborate with Chinese brand Goldstar on a smaller crossover, designed to rival the Macan. Our CGI artist's impression at the time revealed a similar stance and typical Lotus styling cues.

Lotus SUV: CAR magazine's artist's impression

With Hethel's lightweight expertise, that car was designed to be 200-300kg less hefty than its German rival, helped by small-capacity four-cylinder power.

'It looks like a Lotus SUV, it looks lightweight, and it will drive like no other SUV because it will be much lighter,' chief executive Gales told CAR at the time. 'It will look stunning. At the front you'll see a taste of 3-Eleven, plus hints of the Elite and other Lotus cars.' 

But with Lotus joining Volvo and the London Electric Vehicle Company under the ownership of Geely, the Goldstar plan has bitten the dust as the conglomerate goes it alone.

Should Lotus be following the well-trodden path into the SUV segment? Be sure to sound off in our comments below!

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