Geneva Motor Show - As car industry leaders gathered in Geneva this week to fret about how to cram more software and electronics into their vehicles, one man stood out.
Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales is not preoccupied by the future of self-driving cars, since his customers have no intention of giving up the steering wheel - and because the loss-making British sports car maker's survival is a more imminent concern.
While defiantly analogue models such as its newly upgraded Evora flagship may eventually get more digital controls, the priority is a return to Lotus's lean essentials - which means removing unnecessary gadgets.
“We had an electronically opening glove compartment, which in a sports car is worse than useless,” he said at the Palexpo Centre, barely 10 months after joining Lotus as chief executive.
“I don't know who put that in, but I took it out.”
Other industry forces are harder to resist. The next all-new Lotus vehicle is likely to be a crossover SUV, Gales said.
Lotus won renown for its aluminium chassis technology combining stiffness with low weight. It also developed the VH architecture used by a generation of Aston Martins.
It lost £71 million (R1.22 billion) in 2014 but may already be turning a corner under Gales, whose former roles include Volkswagen marketing chief and second-in-command at Peugeot.
A sales network expansion has put Lotus on course for 2000 deliveries in the year ending March 31 - a 62 percent increase on the previous year but well short of Gale’s goal of 3500 for 2016-17, when he aims to return the company to profit.
Priced at £72 000 (R1.23 million), the Evora 400 - denoting its increased horsepower (up from 258kW to 298kW) - and a coming roadster variant are key to any comeback in the United States, where sales have dwindled to 250 cars a year.
Engineers changed some parts and dropped others to pare 22kg from the Evora while adding a bigger supercharger - a “power up, weight down” approach Gales plans to repeat on the Exige and entry-level Elise, starting at £34 000 (R612 000).
The model revamps would also cut both input costs and manufacturing time by about 10 percent, he said.
Gales also said the board might decide this year to invest in a new four-door model, most likely an SUV. Echoing Aston Martin, Bentley and other luxury brands that are cautiously edging into fast-selling premium crossovers, he promised Lotus would “reinvent the category” rather than simply join it.
“We'd do an SUV that is very light, very fast on the track and has outstanding handling,” he said. “I'm a bit torn between an SUV and a four-door sports car - but in the end I can see that the SUV has the bigger market.”