The legacy of Lotus Engineering


Almost all of the dynamics work that Lotus Engineering, the consultancy division of Lotus, has undertaken for clients has been and will always be confidential. However, there have been notable exceptions; the Lotus Cortina, Lotus Sunbeam and Lotus Carlton / Omega were three high-performance cars that were developed, engineered and manufactured in partnership with Ford, Talbot and GM, respectively.

All were successful for both the client and for Lotus; commercially, for brand and reputation-building and, in two out of three cases, in the world of motorsport. The Cortina won multiple touring car championships, while the Sunbeam took the manufacturers’ title in the 1981 World Rally Championship.

The Lotus Sunbeam won the manufacturers’ title in the 1981 World Rally Championship

In the late 1990s the Vauxhall Astra proudly advertised the association, with ‘Handling by Lotus’ displayed across UK billboards. The 2015 Hyundai Genesis was another premium car that acknowledged Hethel’s input, with the lead vehicle dynamics engineer from Lotus joining in the media launch activities in the USA. A few cars have even carried a ‘Handling by Lotus’ badge, with the cult Proton Satria GTI and the Isuzu Piazza the two best-known for this.

In 1992 another Lotus Engineering dynamics project was given a public launch. Structure, Isolation and Dynamics Research – better known as SID – was an amalgamation of two engineering groups, bringing together their expertise to reinvent ride and handling development.

The SID combined new technologies with a familiar Esprit bodyshell

A composite monocoque with Lotus Esprit bodywork (the Structure) sat on a unique backbone chassis supporting a 300bhp turbocharged V6 MG Metro 6R4 powertrain (through various tuneable elements, the Isolation). It was a technical tour de force, a rolling test bed for Lotus-developed active suspension, active ride, four-wheel steering and four-wheel drive (the Dynamics). Clever algorithms meant the vehicle could showcase each of its technologies one at a time or all together, and SID included a digital controller which meant every suspension parameter could be modified at the touch of the laptop keyboard, even while on the move. That in itself was an achievement, for the first time enabling the data to be captured and downloaded for further analysis.

Importantly, it allowed the SID team to plot dynamic inputs against driver experience – what was it that created ‘that special feeling’ in the person behind the wheel? – which was crucial to improving dynamic understanding for clients of the Lotus Engineering consultancy, but also Lotus itself.

The Eletre Hyper-SUV has a five-link suspension at the rear

Today, SIDE is part of the many decades of learning which have influenced what Lotus knows about active and passive systems. The five-link suspension at the rear of the Eletre Hyper-SUV launched earlier this year is an example of that progression. Featuring multi-chamber air suspension with continuous damping control, a 48V anti-roll system, torque vectoring and an active rear axle (depending on model) with a selection of drive modes, it integrates dynamic excellence into a completely new class of Lotus vehicle.

Gavan Kershaw, director of vehicle attributes, has been at Lotus for 34 years and is responsible for developing the dynamics of every new Lotus car. He explains, “At Lotus we’ll never use electronics as a sticking plaster for a poor architecture or chassis, but we can make a vehicle like the Eletre feel as nimble as the Elise because we understand technologies such as rear-wheel steering, active roll control and active damping.”

Kershaw refined the dynamics of the Emira

Kershaw and the Lotus dynamics team know the difference between a car that handles well, one that doesn’t, and all the nuances in between. They work in tandem with clients to offer a full package of dynamics services, ensuring that the product requirements are cascaded into technical targets that can be managed and tracked throughout the delivery programme.

Mark Stringer, commercial director for Lotus Engineering, leads the strategic planning and delivery of external Lotus Engineering projects, and has brought a fresh focus on to offering advanced technologies and services to clients. “We’re hugely proud of our reputation for cars with exceptional handling, and SID is an excellent example of how our innovative approach across multiple disciplines delivers ingenious solutions,” he says.

“Our services in dynamics can support clients looking to utilise our broad experience in both the traditional automotive industry, and the wider field of intelligent mobility to deliver innovative solutions into their market sector. As the world moves into the all-electric era, and with the prospect of fully autonomous vehicles getting ever closer, there is no reason why companies should compromise on dynamics. Striking the right balance between comfort, safety and an exceptional experience for the driver or other occupants is where Lotus Engineering continues to position itself.”

The four core pillars of Lotus Engineering’s expertise and its commercial offering are Platforms, Control Systems, Dynamics and Technical Services. The latter includes intelligent design, product concept development, attribute development, advanced engineering and even whole-vehicle manufacturing.

The 177mph Lotus Carlton caused a stir when it launched in 1990

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About Author

Adam divides his time as an editor between the worlds of aviation and motoring. These worlds may seem a little diverse today, but autonomous technology and future urban mobility is bringing them ever-closer. Adam is also chairman of the Vehicle Dynamics International Awards.

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