The future of Electric Vehicles is in the East of England
By Matt Windle, MD, Lotus Cars
The story of Lotus cars begins in 1948, when founder and genius engineer Colin Chapman built his first car in converted stables behind a pub in north London. In the almost 75 years since, Lotus has created a unique automotive heritage. It includes iconic sport cars such as the Elan, Esprit, Elise and Exige, as well as a Formula 1 pedigree that consists of seven Constructor’s and six Driver’s Championships.
The story of Lotus in the East of England begins in July 1966 when Lotus moved to Hethel, just south of Norwich. Rural Norfolk offered Lotus the right combination of technology, space, workforce and infrastructure, and we’ve been there ever since, a significant employer and exporter of technology and products.
Today the site is unrecognisable from the former US airbase that Chapman inherited. The 85-acre site includes the very latest in automotive design, engineering and manufacturing capability, plus the iconic 2.2-mile test track, originally fashioned from the old runway and used by many of F1’s greatest – Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti. More recently it hosted Jenson Button when he unveiled our latest new product, the Lotus Emira sports car, in July 2021.
Lotus is in the middle of a transformation like nothing else in the automotive industry today. We are transitioning from a UK sports car company to a global performance car business and brand. We can do this because of investment; in 2017 Lotus became part of the Geely Automotive group, which includes Volvo, Polestar, Proton and London Electric Vehicle Company.
In 2018 we celebrated our 70th birthday. As part of the celebrations, we published a strategy we called Vision80. It is the 10-year plan guiding our transformation, driving us forward to grow from a range of niche petrol-powered sports cars to become a premium performance car brand with a highly desirable range of all-electric vehicles on sale in all the world’s major markets.
Our exciting EV future begins on 29 March 2022 when we give a world premiere our all-electric Hyper SUV – known until then by the codename Type 132 – and continues in the summer when the first customers of the Evija, our all-electric hypercar, take delivery.
In addition to new cars, Vision80 is guiding the transformation of our UK facilities, to make Lotus an employer of choice for our rapidly expanding workforce. Hethel now boasts a fully automated paint shop and semi-automated production lines, and in nearby Norwich we have opened a new chassis manufacturing facility. There is also a new engineering and testing centre in Wellesbourne, Warwickshire.
During the first four years of Vision80, more than £500 million has been invested in our UK facilities and product development. Employment and revenue have both grown by over 200%, and 2021 was our best sales performance for 10 years, with 80% of products being exported. In 2022 Lotus employs 1,600 people in the UK, roughly double what it was in 2018.
So, what of the future? A core element of Vision80 is that Lotus is committed to go fully electric by the end of this decade. The Emira is our last petrol-powered car – everything after is electric – and we’ve already announced the first four models are in development.
Fast-forward to the end of next year, 2023, and we will be producing around 7,000 vehicles a year from the East of England – an increase of 460% from 2021.
We are investing in the latest technology and engineering skills. As an example, we have designed and engineered a bespoke electric vehicle architecture just for sports cars which, in line with our heritage and core values, is focused on a simplified lightweight design. We have called it LEVA – the Lightweight Electric Vehicle Architecture – and through our external commercial division, Lotus Engineering, this is available for other companies to buy and create their own cars. It’s another example of how investment has enhanced our ability to export technology.
We see being part of the Eastern Powerhouse can enhance our ambition. We need a clear strategy on:
Education – ensuring local schools, colleges and universities can keep up with demand for high-value roles in topics such as software, cyber-security and AI.
Employment – linked to education, we must ensure we have the right candidates to support our growth targets.
Local investment – we need both local and national support, ensuring investment in the UK, and particularly the East of England, by our parent company is seen as a viable option with a valuable return.
Transport – ensuring parts can efficiently be delivered to our manufacturing facilities from our global network of suppliers, and our products shipped to customers worldwide.
In return, we can support the Eastern Powerhouse with our global brand and communications, highlight the high-value jobs opportunities in the East of England, bring new technology and support start-up or incubator companies locally. As part of our ongoing plan to move to net-zero, we can also enhance the green credentials of the region.
The East of England has a wealth of diverse businesses, a technology mindset and an environmental focus. There is a real thirst for investment and business growth opportunities.
Lotus is proud to be part of the Eastern Powerhouse project.