Take note of Phil Popham’s words. The CEO of Lotus made it crystal clear this week that he believes that electric motors and batteries are the right technology for sports cars. Popham’s stance couldn’t be more different than what Ferrari executives believe: that EV technology is “not developed” enough for sports cars, much less a supercar.
Popham this week told the UK’s Auto Express:
EV is really well suited to sports cars — the torque characteristics, the weight distribution, design, and flexibility of dynamics. For me, it all leads to BEV as the ultimate technology for sports cars.
The other thing with EV sports cars is the distribution of weight. Batteries are flexible. You aren’t trying to build a car around some big componentry such as gearboxes and engines, so that gives you some flexibility.
He believes that an electric powertrain is how Lotus will become more competitive: aerodynamics, lightweight, and performance.
The opposing viewpoints about EVs from Lotus and Ferrari are cultural. Chinese automaker Geely bought a majority stake in Lotus in 2017. China is all about EVs. And Geely is also behind EV performance-car maker Polestar, as well as EV-friendly Volvo.
Meanwhile, a Ferrari is all about the throaty rumble of its engine note. Without that roar, it’s not a Ferrari. A Lotus also screams, but the company is willing to evolve with the times.
For example, Lotus a year ago revealed the 2,000-hp Evija all-electric hypercar. The entire production run of 130 units, priced at about $2.5 million, was promptly sold out. Popham remarked:
After we’ve built our 130 hypercars, we’ll concentrate on rebuilding our core sports car range. We will have a combustion-powered sports car to show you toward the end of next year (2020), for sale after that. Beyond that car, every Lotus, in whatever segment, will have a full electric version.
That was all Lotus needed to see. From here on out, every Lotus will have an EV option. Lotus’s next-generation electric sports car, which could fetch a premium price over its comparable combustion models, is expected to arrive in late 2022.
Popham admitted that Geely wants to revitalize the Lotus brand with electric powertrains — and prove out the case for sporty EVs. He said:
The money that is going into product development is something we could never, ever afford to do on our own if we hadn’t got the ambitious owner that we have.
The chief executive emphasized that the investment would go to platforms that could be used for multiple cars — and that the next EV would represent the beginning of a “significant engineering program.” He even said that electric Lotus sedans, SUVs, and GTs were a possibility.
In another sign that Lotus got bit by the EV bug, the company last month said that it’s partnering with British Gas to develop a customized charging strategy that includes vehicle-to-grid technology.
Lotus and Ferrari both can’t be right. Enrico Galliera, Ferrari’s chief commercial officer, last month said that battery technology needs to improve over the next five or so years before it can serve Ferrari’s “brand heritage.”
Until then, Galliera says Ferrari will comply with regulations — but not go further than that.
Meanwhile, Lotus believes it can transform and modernize the nature of 21st-century sports cars.
The split between these two legendary automakers is fascinating. It reveals the chasm between EV leaders and laggards. It’s that gulf that will separate the winners and losers in the next phase of automotive history.
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