Lotus Engineering cues media on future of automobiles with Technical Press Workshop
The Lotus Engineering Technical Press Workshop was comprised of five, one-to-one sessions over a 2-½ day period, from Wednesday, November 2 through Friday, November, 4. Torque News took the Friday morning slot, as I had already met Gary Haddon, Lotus Marketing Manager, at The Battery Show 2011.
According to the invitation, each Lotus Engineering Technical Press Workshop enabled media reps to learn about the latest innovations from Lotus Engineering in America, including the latest technologies in Powertrain Engineering and Testing; including electric drive efficiencies, fuel strategies, hybrid drives and non automotive projects.
The Lotus Engineering staff revealed much about their vehicle programs that included Lightweight Vehicle Architecture studies and Driving Dynamics projects.
After each workshop, the media was then able to view a number of new and exciting exhibits that included the 414E Series Hybrid Evora featuring a series hybrid drivetrain and a Sound Synthesis System designed for electric vehicles that has been on display at the Geneva Motor Show and more recently at Frankfurt.
Additional exhibits included the all new production Range Extender engines, both the 3 cylinder and 2 cylinder variants, their Hydrogen Fuel Cell London Taxi and the Tri Fuel 270E Lotus Exige, which this reporter viewed at The Battery Show 2011 in Novi, Michigan the week prior.
At the end of the workshop session, the media was offered an evaluation ride and drive in the Tri Fuel 270E Exige, Hydrogen Fuel Cell Taxi and a Lotus Evora. On Friday, though, the media reps seemed to be on a tight schedule.
At Friday’s session, I learned that only ten media reps would attend in total; and Friday morning’s session already had three, which included this reporter from Torque News. Frankly, I thought the place would have been packed, but SEMA was still in play in Las Vegas.
To set the stage, the usual history lesson was given about Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus in 1952. He felt there was a two-way relationship between man and machine that had to be met; and he did this within a framework of four ideas:
1) Performance through light weight structures
2) Fun to drive
3) Great ride and handling
Thus, Chapman’s philosophy was to engineer lighter racing vehicles rather than constantly just building larger, more powerful engines. Key to his many successes especially included vehicle handling, of which Lotus is still deemed the best in the world.
Organized as a corporate entity under Group Lotus, the subsidiaries include Motorsport, Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering. Headquartered in Norfolk, England, other offices and entities exist in Europe, Asia and the United States. Michigan now has two; one in Ann Arbor and the other in Sterling Heights.
If there is one area that Lotus excels it has to be in the area of lightweight body structures. The Lotus team believes that 40% lighter bodies are achievable, but the cost is deemed in America as too high, as aluminum (or aluminium as they say in England), is much more expensive than steel; plus the changes in manufacturing processes are vastly different than in present auto plants.
However, Lotus believes emphatically that the industry still needs to view light-weight material costs amid all the savings that the rest of the systems will provide, because they do not need to be as powerful or in such large part counts.
In fact, Lotus likes to tout the words that “the lightest component is the one that isn’t there.” So, design functionality is key. Thus, the Lotus team more often combines parts so as to attain multi-functions. In some cases, a part can handle 4-5 functions.
The best descriptive words I heard was, getting rid of “all that parasitic mass, just sitting there.” As a designer with over 39 years, I dare say I had never heard it quite put that way before or thought of parts as parasites, but the gentleman from Lotus had a point.
Lotus in no way shuns electrification, as they develop powertrains as consultants for many companies around the world. Witness the Evora 414e. Yet, the powertrain engineers do not believe electrification is even necessary if the weight of the vehicle is reduced sufficiently.
After all, the team at Lotus believes EVs are too costly for the masses to make any significant contribution to lowering oil consumption. One look at the retail cost of the Ford Focus Electric at $39.9K, the Chevy Volt at $42K and the Nissan LEAF at $36K, and it’s hard to disagree with them.
When I asked the Lotus team about the next level of engine design, I was surprised that nothing was really new, except its new version of two-cylinder generator engines that can be placed vertical or horizontal. In fact, only one engineer was qualified to answer my question about split-cycle engines, like the Scuderi and the Tour engines. He admitted not knowing much, and only knowing about Scuderi, but felt it had too many parts. How he derived that opinion was not disclosed. I resolved to press him further in the future on that.