Lotus CEO vows famous Norfolk brand is 'back' as he unveils £1.7m Evija hypercar
PUBLISHED: 00:06 17 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:50 17 July 2019
As Lotus unveils its most ambitious, outrageous and beautiful sports car ever, business editor Richard Porritt talks to CEO Phil Popham about the past, the future and the firm's commitment to Norfolk.
Nine years ago former Lotus boss Dany Bahar stood proudly next to six concept cars at the Paris auto show.
None made production.
But this week the firm - apparently revitalised with new investment from Chinese owner Geely - unleashed this monster on the world, the Evija.
It is an all-electric, 0-60mph in under three seconds, ultra-lightweight beast.
And if you want one you'll need an eye-watering £1.7 million in the bank. Don't expect to spot many nervously tackling the speed bumps in Norwich city centre.
But perhaps more importantly for Norfolk, the Evija - which supposedly means 'first in existence' - is set not only to secure the firm's position as one of the region's most famous brands but ensure production continues at the Hethel site which has been home since 1966.
There were some worries earlier in the year that Norfolk could lose its connection with the company when it was announced a new Lotus sport utility vehicle would be developed in China.
But CEO Phil Popham - who joined in the firm in October last year - has ruled that out confirming Lotus' home will remain in the heart of Norfolk.
"This is just the start of a new beginning for us," Mr Popham said. "This is the start of a massive investment plan in new products, facilities and people. We are hiring at the moment - 250 engineers will have come through the doors in the course of this year.
"We will be employing more engineers and manufacturing people here in Hethel. The new car is going to be built here. But that is just the start of about £100m of investment in the Hethel site to make sure we update the facilities and build new facilities for future cars as well as the hypercar.
"This is our home and the centre of the brand - we are spending a lot of money on it."
But he admits that if his ambitious plans are to come to fruition new sites will also be needed.
"We will fill Hethel - we will out grow it and we will have to look beyond it in the future," he added. "But our immediate focus in terms of the hypercar and the next sports car that comes out, they will be built here. We are starting to build those facilities now.
"We will be global. We will be a significant player on a global stage with significant volume. We have the opportunities associated with our parent company in China. But we are not limited to China we could look in the UK as well."
But for now the focus is squarely on the Evija and Mr Popham believes it is a "game changer" which sets down a marker to other famous brands including Italian giants Ferrari and Lamborghini.
"We have a 10-year business plan which is significant in terms of investment and includes replacements for our current products, additional products and potentially additional segments as well," the former Jaguar Land Rover boss said.
"The Evija will be the most powerful production car in the world - it will have phenomenal performance. It is the first true hypercar that has been designed for the drivers rather than just simply to sit in a collection.
"This also makes a statement about design direction as well - there will be design features on this car that you will see in future cars. It is obviously going to be a car people will talk about, because of its performance but also because it is beautiful.
"So a game changer in that respect. Game changer for Lotus? It think it makes a very bold statement about where we are going. We have a very proud history and we have done some great things and built some great cars - but this is announcing that Lotus is back."
But, although Mr Popham is firmly focussed on the future, the rich heritage of the Lotus brand will not be forgotten.
He added: "We are a 70-year old start-up. We have all that proud heritage that we will build on but we are almost starting from scratch. That gives us some real advantages in terms of agility."
There is no denying the Evija looks incredible - more sculpture than sports cars. Russell Carr, design director, said: "During the initial design stage we spent many hours studying images of geological forms - rocks that had been carved by nature over the centuries. We believe we've captured these beautiful, intriguing and elemental lines within the Evija."