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Lotus to build SUV in China for Europe, others

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British sports car maker Lotus plans to build its first SUV in China and export it to Europe and possibly the United States. Lotus aims to launch the SUV in 2019.

It will compete against cars such as the Porsche Macan, Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales told Automotive News Europe. Lotus parent company Proton Holdings, owned by Malaysia’s DRB-Hicom Group, said that it had signed a joint venture agreement with China’s Goldstar Heavy Industrial to produce Lotus cars in the Fujian province.

Gales said Lotus will build a prototype of the SUV in the next 12 months to help the joint venture secure a license to manufacture cars in China. The new car would respect the Lotus tradition of lightweight, dynamically capable cars.

Gales said: “All SUVs are big and fairly heavy. We want to build a car that is lighter and faster — a true Lotus.” The SUV will be built on a platform created with Proton using a mix of steel and aluminum.

The target weight is more than 220 pounds below potential competitors such as the Macan and Audi Q5. The car will be priced slightly lower than the Macan and likely will have a hybrid powertrain.

Gales said Lotus aims to sell more than 5,000 units annually of the SUV, taking the automaker’s annual global sales to about 10,000 by 2020. As well as Europe, the car will be exported to other Asian markets outside of China.

United States sales aren’t certain, Gales said: “We’re not yet sure, it depends on federalization and whether we can do it easily.” In the last financial year ending March, Lotus sales rose 55 percent to just over 2,000 cars. If the China venture goes to plan, Lotus will consider expanding its range built in the country.

Sports car production will remain at Lotus’s plant in Hethel, eastern England, Gales said. Investment for the new model has come from Proton, he said, without giving details. “This car is feasible within our budget limits,” he said.

In 2006 Proton had tried to terminate an earlier joint venture with Goldstar after it failed to get a car-making license in China. Gales said the Chinese government is making positive signs that a manufacturing license will be granted this time.

China is set to become the world’s biggest SUV market by 2020, Gales said. In the first quarter, SUV sales in the country were up 49 percent to 1.3 million, accounting for almost a quarter of passenger car sales in the country, according to figures from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.


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