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Lotus Emira pre-production starts after £100m investment
Lotus Cars has reached another milestone in its Vision80 journey as pre-production of its new Emira gets underway and further details of the substantial investments made in UK operations are revealed.
Total investment in UK facilities now stands at more than £100m, which includes two new production halls at the company’s home in Hethel, Norfolk. One is now in pre-production for the Emira, the all-new Lotus sports car to be unveiled at Hethel on 6 July 2021. The other, for the Evija all-electric hypercar, has completed prototype production and the first customer cars will be built later this year.
The Lotus Advanced Performance Centre at Hethel has also benefitted from an all-new high tech automated paint shop and a retail design studio to highlight the new visual identity for the business’s expanding retail network. This follows investment made last year to upgrade the renowned Lotus test track and equip engineering workshops with equipment to further support electric vehicle development.
Additional investment has been made at Lotus’ other UK sites, including new facilities in nearby Norwich, and in the Midlands in partnership with the University of Warwick.
The workforce at Lotus’ Norfolk sites at Hethel and Norwich has almost doubled since October 2017 when Geely became the majority shareholder. With the launch of the Emira, Lotus is creating more than 200 new operations roles and recruitment is now under way.
David Hewitt, executive director of operations at Lotus, said: “The move to a part-robotised production is the right one for Lotus as we launch the Emira. Everything is about repeatability and efficiency to drive quality. Our workforce is incredibly skilled, and robots help them to deliver the consistency we need at the volume we need it. Our cars will remain ‘Handmade in Hethel’, though our people will be supported by new processes and technologies that will only enhance efficiency and build quality. It is a best of both worlds solution.”
Details of the investment by Lotus include:
Investment in sports car operations, Hethel (all-new factory for Emira production)
New paint shop: This state-of-the art facility supports robotised paint application, a first for Lotus in more than seven decades of car manufacture that will improve quality and throughput of vehicles. It also features other innovative technologies, such as a combined primer and clearcoat line. The system is highly efficient; dry filtration uses 60% less energy than a wet system, while an electrostatic primer on body panels will reduce paint usage by 30-40%. Installation is almost complete and the facility has been locked down during May while deep cleaning takes place. Dry commissioning will commence shortly so the physical systems – e.g. conveyors, transfers, lifts, ovens – can be tested. Wet commissioning will follow later in the summer.
New framing line: Now operational, the framing line is building car bodies as part of Emira pre-production, with robots applying bonding agent to the sides, roof and cantrails.
New AGVs: AGVs allow for the highly efficient movement of cars in build on set routes around the factory, allowing operations colleagues to focus on assembling the vehicles. Routes are easily reprogrammed, creating a flexible and future-proof approach to Lotus sports car manufacturing. Each AGV has a height adjustment system so operators can position the car on it at exactly the right ergonomic height for them.
New main assembly hall: The all-new 12,000m2 main assembly hall is the size of 1.5 football pitches, with a glass-walled mezzanine operations deck above. All station gantries have now been installed. Wheel Alignment and Headlamp Aim (WAHA) equipment, a Vehicle Configuration and Test System (VCaTS), monsoon water test booth, rolling road and fuel fill area are all installed and will be commissioned by the end of June.
The entire sports car operations production facility is powered by 100% renewable electricity.
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Investment at Lotus Advanced Structures (LAS), Norwich
New fabrication facility: Announced in July 2020, LAS is Lotus’ new fabrication facility in Norwich, just a few miles from Hethel. Consolidating chassis assembly from Lotus Lightweight Structures in Worcester with subframe and fuel tank assembly from another facility in Norwich, relocating both into LAS will increase efficiency and dramatically reduce logistics costs and transport emissions.
The chassis and front-end assembly line, including robot bonding agent application, is now operational at LAS, supplying components for the pre-production of Emira. Eight new CNC milling machines are being installed, plus four more transported from Worcester. A new laser cutting machine is being commissioned to manufacture fuel tanks, rear subframes and many of the steel and aluminium components used on the vehicle.
New Lotus Learning Academy: The launch of the Emira is creating more than 200 new operations roles at Lotus and recruitment is now under way. These colleagues are among the first to pass through the all-new Lotus Learning Academy, based at LAS.
Investment at Lotus Advanced Technology Centre (LATC)
Investment has taken place at LATC, an engineering base for the business in the Midlands. The region is a focal point for automotive and engineering performance innovation, and so is the perfect location for Lotus’ high voltage development and testing centre. It’s also the ideal home for the Lotus Engineering consultancy. Announced in July 2020, LATC is on the Wellesbourne campus of the University of Warwick.
The investment in Lotus’ UK facilities dates back to 2018, when majority shareholder Geely and minority shareholder Etika approved Vision80, the strategic plan for the transformation of Lotus ahead of its 80th birthday in 2028.