It’s been no secret that 2012 was a tough year for Lotus, but it seems as if times are changing in Norfolk. It was with this in mind that we made the trip up to Hethel with Jamie Matthews of Bell & Colvill and a pair of Exige S customers to meet with Head of European Sales for Lotus Cars, Graeme Robertson, to take a look how production of the cars is progressing and hopefully put to rest some of the rumours and worries that have been spreading as a result of the many delays that have beset the model.
We began our tour over in the original factory, now used for sub-assembly production and bodywork preparation at the very start of the build process. The bodywork area is buzzing to the sound of sanders as panels are readied for painting, while in the sub-assembly section numerous Exige S rear sub-frames with engines (characterised by the black supercharger, the Evora S’ is finished in silver) are being wheeled along ready to be transported over to the main production line – from which they should emerge as complete cars around 3 weeks later.
From here we head over to the later factory area, housing the main production line and originally used to build the S2 Elise and VX220. We enter in to the final preparation area and it’s fair to say that while there are a number of Exiges and Elises in this area that there is a high mix of Evoras as well. It is worth noting that to reach this stage that a car must be complete with NO missing parts.
Graeme admitted that Lotus’ increased focus on improving the productivity, efficiency and quality of its processes and products led to a drop in production. These improvements were necessary however to meet Lotus’ new internal quality control standards that have been imposed over the last 6 months and which led to a delay in production of the Exige S. The upside is what should be a notably better end product coming off the line, where the fit and finish will hopefully be a match for the award winning dynamics, and production volumes are now steadily increasing.
We then head back to the initial stages of the build process and follow the build process along from a bare chassis through the installation of the mechanical components, bodywork fitment and finally adding the interior and carrying out calibration. It’s here where you can really see the positive side of the DRB-Hicom takeover as each stage has been bolstered by a greater range of checks with finer tolerances to meet – this is a company which has for years worked refining and optimising the production processes of other companies doing what it does best.
All in there we see around two dozen Exige S’ in various stages of the build process, and while many are destined for various dealers around the world a glance at the build sheets does reveal a number of cars tantalisingly marked ‘Customer’.
Returning to the final preparation and suddenly all eyes are on one car – a Chrome Orange Exige S. In an instant orders are changed with both customers on the tour abandoning their previous choices of Pearl White. It’s easy to see why as well because it looks absolutely stunning and suits the car perfectly; it almost seems perverse that this colour is a special order not normally even on the option list for the Exige!
We round off the tour with a trip to the marquee where completed cars are stored prior to transportation to their recipients around the world. In here we found another 14 Exige S’, some destined for the remaining UK dealers and set for delivery this week, along with a plethora of Elises and Evora – including a large shipment destined for China and a number of the Evora Sports Racer models. Finally the visit was rounded off with a quick look around the motorsport facility, with a selection of Evora GT4 and Exige V6 Cup R’s in mid-build.
After all the doubt and delays it’s great to see the factory alive with activity and cars coming off the line, and those with orders can rest assured that the Exige S is amongst them. The key thing now is for Lotus get deliveries to customers coming through at a regular rate and restore people’s faith in the future of the company – something which based on what I saw today they have a good chance of achieving.
Written by James Thorburn (Thorburn)