Lotus Esprit V8 'options open'

words - Feann Torr
Range-topping Lotus supercar not dead and buried, as Lotus model rejuvenation continues

As Lotus this week launched its new 2014 model Exige S Roadster in Australia, as part of an ongoing product renewal process designed to stimulate sales, the company says it still hasn't given up on its stalled Esprit V8 supercar project.

"Contrary to popular belief the factory is keeping its options open," said Alastair Manihera, brand manager for Lotus Australia and New Zealand, of the Esprit -- an iconic supercar which emerged in 1976 and was last built in 2004.

"It's extremely exciting -- we'd love to see it," he said. "But as far as what happens and when, we still need to find out from the factory where they're going to go."

The Ferrari-rivalling supercar was first shown as a concept at the 2010 Paris motor show, alongside four other concepts during Dany Bahar's ambitious reign as Lotus CEO. He's since been fired.

Development on the Esprit's 4.8-litre V8 engine and the car itself were said to be well advanced when Malaysian owner DRB-Hicom tightened the reins on Lotus's rapid expansion plans and halted all work on the concept cars' progression.

Nevertheless, there is still a strong desire both within the company and from customers to bring the Esprit project to fruition.

"Moving forward there is a long-term view with the plan and products that are coming through," Manihera told motoring.com.au.

But he cautioned there has been "no commitment" to the project yet.

The ultimate deciding factor for any new model is demand, which a born-again Esprit should have no trouble with, according to the Lotus regional boss. Asked if there was customer interest in a reborn Esprit, he answered "Absolutely".

"A lot of people who grew up idolising that car are now capable of purchasing such vehicles. There's a very strong affiliation in people's minds and because of that I think that would be a very strong case for something like Esprit to come back."

He also agreed there was still "a lot of scope within the factory for new product lines as well".

It is understood that the V8 engine destined to power the in-limbo Esprit is capable of revving to 9000rpm and had an output of around 450kW. Developed by Wolf Zimmerman, Lotus's chief technical officer, the engine can be scaled due to its modular design.

It was planned to power the Elan and Elise in six- and four-cylinder iterations, and the engine tech could yet be resurrected, with or without a reborn Esprit.

"The capability would be there [to put the engine in other vehicles]," said Manihera.

"It was supposed to be a modular [engine] platform so you could break it down to six or four cylinders theoretically speaking, but again the factory is evaluating various options, on existing and future lines," he said.

Lotus currently uses Toyota engines in its lightweight sports car: the Exige S and Evora's 3.5-litre V6 is shared with the Aurion and the Elise's 100kW four-cylinder also powers the Corolla.

Manihera says Lotus has the capability to build its own engines and that "obviously people would like to see a bespoke engine from the brand as well," but questions if it's necessary at this stage.

Whatever the fate of the new Esprit and its lusty V8 engine, Lotus appears to be on the road to recovery with increased sales in the last couple of years prompting Malaysian owner DRB-Hicom to invest more cash, while UK government grants have also afforded the company more flexibility.

"We have a much, much brighter future," said Manihera. "We are very pleased to be able to say that, because the brand's about passion and building cars that excite the soul."

"DRB-Hicom see a very long-term future approach, otherwise they wouldn’t be making the investment we're looking at. As to what that investment entails, I can't talk about at this stage."

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Published : Friday, 21 February 2014
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