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Sports carmaker Lotus to ramp up production more than tenfold


The sports carmaker Lotus has unveiled plans to increase its output more than tenfold, in a boost to the UK’s post-Brexit automotive sector that will lead to new electric models being built in Norfolk.

Lotus, majority-owned by China’s Geely since 2017, said it would ramp up production at sites including its Hethel plant, near Norwich, bringing at least 275 jobs to the area.

The expansion is being funded by £2.5bn from Geely, with Lotus saying the investment in new infrastructure has set the company up for a “pure electric future”.

The plans include a new plant in China, where electric SUVs will be made – part of a move beyond the company’s traditional focus on sports cars.

Lotus expects the foray into SUV production to help it chase sales around the world, thanks to the rising popularity of larger “lifestyle” vehicles.

The popularity of SUVs has led several sports car specialists to make the leap, with new entrants to the market including Porsche and Ferrari.

Lotus sold fewer than 1,400 cars last year, losing £14m on revenues of £96m. But it expects the strategic shift, part of a turnaround plan ending in 2028, to revive the flagging brand and boost sales by a factor of more than 10.

The managing director, Matt Windle, told the Financial Times that the bulk of the company’s cars would eventually be SUVs, increasing global appeal.

“This plan will take us into new segments, and new parts of the market,” said Windle, who was promoted to run the company in January.

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“When the lifestyle products and the new sports cars come along, we will be talking about tens of thousands of cars a year, rather than thousands.”

The UK automotive sector repeatedly sounded the alarm about Brexit, flagging up a no-deal scenario as a potential fatal blow for large sections of the industry.

While uncertainty remains about the future of the sector, particularly in the light of an unprecedented slump in output due to Covid-19, several international companies have delivered a vote of confidence in the UK.

Nissan said it would maintain production at its UK factory, removing a threat to most of the 6,700 jobs at Nissan Sunderland, Britain’s biggest car plant.

Ford said in March its factory in Dagenham would make the diesel engines for its next generation of Transit Custom vans.

Lotus’ sports cars will continue to be produced at Hethel, where production is slated to increase threefold. But the shift towards SUVs means a new plant in Wuhan, China, is expected to host most of the expansion.

The company revealed its plans as it prepares to launch the Lotus Emira, due to be unveiled in July, a model that will replace the Exige and Elan.

Previously known by the codename Type 131, the Emira will be the last new Lotus to run on an internal combustion engine, with future models due to be electric thanks to a £2.5bn investment from Geely that has funded the shift.

The company pointed to a “pure electric future”, which it said was epitomised by the launch of its British-built “hypercar”, the Evija, which is due to start rolling off production lines this year.

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