The forthcoming Lotus SUV is set to position the Norfolk-based sports car brand as a more luxury car maker than previously - and could be the first in a series of crossover machines from the firm.
The project was one of the first signed off by Chinese company Geely after it bought the British firm last year. As previously revealed by Autocar UK, the machine will use Volvo underpinnings, with Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales promising "class-leading handling".
Speaking at the Beijing motor show, Peter Horbury, Geely's design boss, said: “The question is where Lotus can be positioned in the market, where it is today and where the competition might be. China is a huge market for more luxury, more expensive cars, so that’s a possibility.
“SUVs were never on the agenda at Porsche until someone dared to suggest to the board it might be a good idea. Where would they be today if they hadn’t?"
Horbury, who has previously headed up design at Ford and Volvo, was coy on details on the upcoming SUV but said: "It’s never going to be as light as an Evora. But I’m sure if you’re calling it a Lotus, it has to be the lightest it can be of that genre.”
He also hinted that there is more than one SUV coming from Lotus: “We’ve already mentioned SUVs are coming and we need a lot of resources in a fairly swift amount of time."
That resource is coming from a new Coventry-based Geely design centre, of which new Lotus models, including the SUVs, will be a focus.
All Lotus design remains under the remit of Lotus chief designer Russell Carr, who reports to Horbury. While Carr remains focused on sports cars at Lotus’ home in Hethel, Norfolk, the Coventry studio will facilitate the brand’s forthcoming SUVs.
“It’s an ambitious plan [for Lotus]," Horbury explained. "Russell is stretched doing the sports cars he is creating with his team in Hethel and so this new design centre allows Lotus to use Geely resources.”
While a facility in Coventry was already on the cards before Geely acquired Lotus, Horbury said the purchase cemented that decision. “I could have expanded Gothenburg or Shanghai studios. When Lotus came along, I thought it was wise to maintain the creative work of Lotus in England. If we couldn’t expand Hethel with enough people to do all the projects, we’d better stay in England within reasonable distance.”
He added that Coventry has a lot of automotive expertise, not only in design but also in model-making and tool-making. The city is also the base for Geely-owned London Electric Vehicle Company, which makes the new TX taxi.
Lotus design is good at differentiating from rivals, according to Horbury: “We’ve looked at the design signatures of Lotus and I think they’re very good at keeping Lotus separated from other brands. Simple things like the visor look of the windows is terrific. We might want to say that’s got to be there.
“We’re looking hard at what Lotus can be. There’s a good track record at Geely for letting brands develop. Volvo is a great example.
“The ambitions for Lotus are greater than before Geely came along. There is the possibility of building a whole group of vehicles which carry the Lotus name into areas that Lotus hasn’t been before.”