The Exige:

A racing car that can also be used on the road

By Jorn Madslien
BBC News Online business reporter at the Geneva Motor Show

The British car maker and engineering firm Lotus has secured orders that will lead to a near doubling of its sports car production.

Lotus has pre-sold 2,000 of its Elise in the US ahead of the launch of its $40,000 Federal version later this month, and this should bring its total output to about 4,500 cars, Lotus executive Ansar Ali has told BBC News Online.

The US launch comes after years of battle with American officials who have only recently agreed to approve the sparsely equipped two-seater's safety standards.

Mr Ali hopes that bringing the Elise to the US should further help push the company into the black, just as it prepares to reveal that it returned a profit during the year to March this year.

This is quite a landmark for the company which has been losing money for years.

Roaring into Japan

Another boost to Lotus comes from its continued expansion in Japan where it currently sells about 200 Elise cars a year.

Move over Mondeo, here is my next fleet car

Its latest model, the Exige, which will go on sale to the public for the first time on Saturday at the Geneva Motor Show, should add 100 or 200 further sales in Japan, Mr Ali predicted.

Lotus describes the new launch as a racing car that can also be used on the road.

The car maker expects to sell between 600 and 700 of the £30,000 Exige a year, about half of them in the UK.

Both the new model launch and the push into the US coincide with the petering out of a contract to make the Speedster on behalf of Vauxhall.

For this reason, Lotus has "the capacity and the flexibility to absorb the increase in production" of its own Elise and the Exige models, Mr Ali said.


Looking ahead, Lotus also has plans to replace its Esprit supercar by late 2006 or early 2007.

The Federal Elise will soon arrive on American roads

The replacement will probably cost somewhere in the region of £50,000 to £70,000, Mr Ali estimated.

The last of the old Esprit rolled off the assembly line at the factory in Norwich only last week.

The car's continous presence in the US market has kept alive a network of 50 enthusiastic dealers in the US, said Mr Ali.

This means Lotus will not have to build up dealer relations from scratch when it launches the Federal Elise.

Company car

Under the auspices of the Malaysian car maker Proton - which acquired the remaining 20% of Lotus shares two years ago to become the sole owner - Lotus has also modified its Elise model to broaden its appeal.

"What we're trying to do with our brand is to satisfy both performance drivers and lifestyle oriented customers who like the looks of the car, but want ABS, electric windows, a CD player and a carpet," explained Mr Ali.

Driving enthusiasts who want to keep the weight down will often chose a pared down version of the £28,000 190bhp car, while poseurs might be more interested in a 120bhp £23,000 car with added gadgets.

Mr Ali insisted that the Elise is becoming ever more popular with company car drivers because its 1.8 litre engine puts it in the same emissions category as the Ford Ka, thus making it cheaper for tax reasons than cars with larger engines.

It is a claim that is hard to take seriously, despite Mr Ali's insistence that at 40 miles to the gallon the car is also rather economical to drive.

Both the Elise and the Exige are likely to remain cars for enthusiasts who are prepared to go through an elaborate acrobatic routine every time they get in and out of the car.