OK, OK, so Lotus Cars isn't synonymous with high volume. In 52 years, the British motor sports specialist has assembled only 60,000 cars.
But the company's engineering arm, Lotus Engineering Ltd., wants to make a name for itself in powertrain development for everyday, mass-produced vehicles.
In Europe, the company estimates that 10% of all new cars sold will be powered by Lotus-designed engines by the end of this year. In 1998, Lotus Engineering produced 350 engine prototypes - that's nearly one engine for each of the 400 powertrain engineers on staff.
Lotus Engineering has plenty of business with U.S.-based automakers in Europe, but now the company has targeted North America in its quest for engine work for broader markets.
In Ann Arbor, MI, the company recently acquired the Michigan Automotive Research Corp. (MARCO), a new testing facility equipped with 27 engine and transmission test beds, emissions certification capabilities and engine build workshops. Lotus Engineering also plans to open a new U.S. headquarters in Southfield, MI, this July, and the company is recruiting engineers now.
The Ann Arbor and Southfield facilities, working closely with the company's British counterparts, intend to run multiple automotive engineering programs in the U.S. - from initial concept and project design to full production prototype build, including whole-vehicle projects.
A recent example of its whole-vehicle capabilities is the Lotus M250 concept car, which Lotus Cars will build by hand in two years, at a rate of 3,000 per year, says Lotus spokesman Alastair Florance.
The company doesn't intend to build engines, but rather help develop them with expertise in technology such as cylinder deactivation (a discipline enjoying a revival of sorts), direct gasoline injection, active valve trains and compressed natural gas.
"We want OEMs to be aware of our presence," Mr. Florance says. "We want to use our technology as a calling card."