Lotus’ timeless ‘tub’

Orange Lotus Elise 2013 - Lotus' timeless tub

New Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales sees no reason to change the British sport car maker’s underpinnings. He says Lotus’ bonded aluminum “tub” — launched on the first Elise in 1996 — remains a benchmark for vehicle dynamics and fuel efficiency.

To support his belief, he pointed to the carbon-fiber tub used on the recently launched Alfa Romeo 4C roadster. “Our tub on the Elise weighs 68kg, the carbon-fiber tub on the Alfa 4C weighs 65kg. In the 18 years since Elise was launched, they’ve only saved 3 kilos,” he said.

New Lotus models coming “in the next two years” will continue to use the unique chassis, Gales said.

Gales hasn’t got much choice but to use the chassis given how tight finances are at the money-losing company, but he’s right when it says the process is still relevant.

Lotus was ahead of its time in bonding (with glue) lightweight aluminum sections together — Jaguar Land Rover is now at the forefront of the technology, but it didn’t start until 2003.

The Evora’s chassis shows how Lotus has updated its technology by reinforcing the bonding using self-piercing rivets rather than screws, much in the same way Jaguar does with the new XE.

Lotus has a history of experimenting in chassis technology. For example, the 1962 Elan roadster was built using a monocoque in lightweight fiberglass, the carbon fiber of its day.

The current tub system isn’t perfect: the wide sills make it difficult to get in and out of the car, although Gales says he has a plan to fix this.

Lifting Lotus into profitability will be very hard, but on the plus side, the current models are still some of the very best in the market in terms of dynamic capability, partly because of the way they’re built.