Long-Awaited Lotus First-Year Sellout

By Bill Visnic

WardsAuto.com, Apr 6 2004

Lotus finally is ready to launch its featherweight Elise roadster in North America.

BIRMINGHAM, AL ? Those who wonder whether tiny Lotus Cars USA. can shift a couple of thousand or so of its razor-edged, unapologetically Spartan ? and not exactly inexpensive ? new 2-seat roadster, the Elise, need speculate no longer.

Lotus executives say at the Elise ?s North American press launch here that the company ?s miniscule dealer network has nearly 2,000 deposits for the flyweight Elise, a car that has had enthusiasts clamoring for North American availability since the first-generation car ?s launch in Europe in 1996.

The maximum number of the new cars Elise anticipates delivering to North America in full-year production is about 2,200-2,400 units.

?We ?re fairly close to being sold out for a year, ? says Mark O ?Shaughnessy, director-sales and marketing, Lotus Cars USA.

The Group Lotus factory in the U.K., where the Elise is effectively hand-built, has an annual capacity of about 5,000 units.

O ?Shaughnessy says the company ?s 39 U.S. dealers and three in Canada cover some 29 major markets. Several dealers, most of whom already sell other exotic nameplates such as Lamborghini or Ferrari, each have taken deposits from nearly 200 customers committed to owning the first ?entry level ? Lotus since the star-crossed Elan was dropped in 1991.

The ?05 Elise ? the second generation of the roadster but the first to come to North America ? goes on sale June 15 for a base price of $39,985. The car, which in base form weighs less than a ton, is so focused on the renowned Lotus design goal of light weight that indulgences like power windows ? even carpeting ? are available only in an option package.

The company expects 40% of early buyers to be so hardcore in their adherence to Lotus ? philosophy that they will spend extra for the Elise ?s sport package, which, in addition to further firming an already no-nonsense suspension, includes forged wheels that shave about 20 lbs. (9 kg) from the car ?s total weight.

The sport-package Elise is nearly 500 lbs. lighter than a Mazda Miata and a stunning 900 lbs. (363 kg) lighter than Porsche ?s Boxster S, which the Elise outperforms in 0-60 mph (97 km/h) and quarter-mile acceleration.

An Elise with all the available options, including a 36-lb. (16-kg) hard top that bolts in place of the removable standard canvas roof, will top out at around $45,000. Considering that car enthusiasts in general and Lotus aficionados in particular have waited a long time for the Elise to cross the Atlantic, it appears to be a sellers ? market.

? We ?re not driving the bus on that one, ? O ?Shaughnessy says. ?Dealers can charge what they want, ? he adds, noting the bulging order book, number of apparently serious deposits and pent-up demand have created a climate ripe for dealers to charge higher-than-MSRP prices for the new Elise.

?The Elise is an exotic car, but it ?s relatively affordable because of the simplicity, ? he says.

The Elise that comes to North America is powered by a Toyota Motor Corp.-supplied 1.8L DOHC 4-cyl. that generates 190 hp at 7,800 rpm and 138 lb.-ft. (181 Nm) of torque at 6,800 rpm.

The same engine Toyota employs in its Celica and Matrix is sufficient to impart the featherweight Lotus with supercar performance: 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and a 150-mph (241-km/h) top speed.