By Kiyoshi

There is a BUZZ of activity at Lotus Cars USA. The very first Elise customers will start receiving their new Lotuses in late May (around the same time as the WCLM).

Lotus introduced the US Elise to the Lotus Dealers at the Barber Motorsports Park just outside Birmingham, Alabama March 29 and 30th. That was followed by two days of introduction to the Press. Dealers and the Press were wowed by the new Lotus as they not only had the opportunity to drive the new car on track, but were shown the car’s true potential by Lotus test Engineers, Roger Becker, Alister McQueen and Doc Bundy, ex-Lotus Racer who took the SCCA World Challenge Championship in the X180R Esprit.

arnie johnson and Elise

The Presentation

The new US Elise introduction began with a greeting by Arnie Johnson, President of Lotus Cars USA. Following Arnie was Mark O’Shaughnessy, Director of Sales & Marketing who introduce the new Lotus. There were 9 break-out sessions that covered technical information and background, aftermarket accessories (2 sport exhaust systems, Elise luggage, hard top storage case, CD cases and more) and dealer support information on marketing and sales.

GGLC Visits

Just prior to the cars getting load and transported to Birmingham I was able to visit LCU and had an opportunity to see and drive a US Elise. Walking into the warehouse has always been a treat, in the past it’s housed Esprits, motorsport Elises and a few 340Rs. But, this time it was full of Elises, better yet these were US Federalized cars, legal for our US roads!

There before were 2 Artic Silver cars, 2 Racing Green, another in Ardent Red, Saffron Yellow, a couple more in Magnetic Blue, Storm Titanium, Krypton Green, Aubergine and Chrome Orange! Twelve cars in total spread before me!

chrome orange elise

Three technicians from Hethel were busy preparing the cars for their job of impressing the dealers and press. Everything was being checked and re-checked, nothing left to chance.

Put to Work

With that much activity I wasn’t able to stand around with my hands in my pocket. Dave Simkin, LCU Technical Engineer, took one look at me and screamed, “Kiyoshi, take your eff’ing hands out of your pockets and pull the binnacle off that Esprit!” So, much for standing around, I was put to work prepping a couple of Esprits for delivery to Canada.

Esprits sales have gotten brisk. Only 2 more cars are enroute to LCU, And of the 14 or so in the warehouse 10 were marked “Sold” to one of the dealers. Within 30-60 days there won’t be any Esprits left at LCU and the last of the longest running Lotus models will be going out to some lucky new owner.

silver Elise on rack

The Drive

So the real reason (besides having to be in Atlanta for work) was not necessarily to help Dave Simkin. But, get the keys handed to me and one of the US cars pointed out for a all too brief romp on the roads of Georgia.

Avid C/R readers will recall my report on driving the 111S at the 2003 WCLM up in Portland. I reported,

“Every corner brought new respect and a true realization that it’s a driver’s car. It responds to your input and is forgiving. It has a very high threshold, one that if used on the street would be much faster than might be considered safe. With more and softer tire, the car would be AMAZINGLY fast. It’s no wonder Road & Track found the Elise to out handle every car in the comparison test last year.

During that drive on Portland International Raceway, I also noted the V8 Esprit was walking away from me on every straight. I was turning similar lap times, by being able to make up time under brakes and in the corners. But, it was very clear that the chassis could handle more power.

Given that I was driving on the street I couldn’t drive the same way I did at PIR. But, there was the same feel of directness and honesty to the controls. The brake pedal seemed a bit lighter and longer than the 111S, the US car having ABS, but heel and toe was still very easy.

I can say that the gearshift was 100% improved. It is still a bit long at throw for my taste, but it is crisp and has a nice mechanical feel.

The engine is incredibly flexible. You could easily drive the car around town only using 1st, 3rd and 5th. I accidentally hit 5th from 2nd, the RPMs dropped to about 2000 and the car pulled without complaint or any signs of lugging.

Where the 111S made you desire for power, the Toyota engine spins and spins. I often found myself running at 4000 rpm and thought it was only 3000. Smooth. But, drop a gear or two and hit the throttle and the beast emerges! A flap opens in the intake runner and there’s an attention getting intake roar in the driver’s left ear, the tach spins up to 6200 rpm and the car rockets forward! Bam! You’re at 8000 rpm. Bam! You hit the next gear and get shoved into your seat.

I was in 3rd gear up around 8000 rpm, the Elise was still pulling hard. I glance down at the speedo and saw 95+ mph (in a 45 zone). Effortless!

This new Lotus begs, no… BEGS!!! For track time!

The drive was over all too soon, but the grin hasn’t worn off. I can’t wait to get my car!!!

WCLM Ride & Drives

If for no other reason, you NEED to register for the WCLM. LCU and our sponsoring dealers – BMC San Francisco, Smith Lotus (San Luis Obispo) and Silicon Valley Auto Group will bring their demo cars for you to have the opportunity to drive or ride in the new Lotus. I guarantee that it worth the price of admission. I can’t imagine a better setting to enjoy this new Lotus than Lake Tahoe.

Lotus building

The New Crib

As if launching a new model and doing a huge Press and Dealer launch weren’t enough to do… LCU is moving from their home of 5 plus years in Lawrenceville across the highway to Duluth! A larger building, built to their specification, more room for parts, cars, servicing and offices.

Arnie gets a nice corner office with lots of windows, the showroom with have a lounge for waiting visitors, a nicely appointed conference room and Dave Simkin gets a new larger training room.

LCU move in day is April 16th.