It is hard to believe, but a full decade has passed since the first issue of Lotus Engineering’s proActive.
I have just had a flick through past issues and a few things stood out which I’ll list here. In particular, thinking about the interviews I have done triggered some unusual memories on the production side of things that I thought I’d also share.
Do you remember the APX concept car that Lotus produced? The ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ car that delivered performance, but with safe MPV-style functionality. It showed off Lotus design capabilities. Nice styling, I thought at the time (Issue 15, 2006).
Ah, the Lotus Exige 265E biofuel. Naughty but environmentally responsible. I loved the idea encapsulated in a neat article header: “British, racing and very green”. Well done to whoever thought that one up (Issue 16, 2006).
I interviewed then Lotus CEO Mike Kimberley in his office at Hethel in 2007. That was a real pleasure as not only was Mike able to lay out, very openly, the business strategy for the company, but he also shared some historical anecdotes with me (and Mr Kimberley has Lotus history and DNA in spades). Charming and considerate bloke also (Issue 22, 2007).
I recall interviewing Trevor Rudderham, Carbon Motors Corporation VP in 2008. It was a telephone interview and he was sitting outside somewhere in the afternoon sunshine near Atlanta, Georgia, with some delightful birdsong as a background accompaniment. Fascinating project, too: to design and build a purpose-built police patrol car that would be better suited for purpose than a converted Ford Crown Victoria. Alas, this was a start-up for whom things did not go altogether smoothly, so the idea is still out there (Issue 26, 2008).
The Lotus Evora is, by all accounts, a very good car. I remember Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear being very complimentary about it. Evora was launched in 2008 and proActive carried some very interesting articles on its development and engineering (Issues 27 and 28, 2008).
Mahindra’s head of automotive, Dr Pawan Goenka, was a most charming fellow when I interviewed him down the telephone – he in India, me in UK. I was particularly relieved to get this one ‘in the can’ as I had made a schoolboy error with the time zone difference that meant I had kept him waiting for my call at the end of his busy working day. I offered profuse apologies, but his PA was pretty furious with me. Dr Goenka, however, was perfectly fine and cheerfully gave full answers to all of my questions, which was something of a relief at the time (Issue 31, 2009).
Another fine interviewee was Oskar Goitia of Mondragon, an automotive components maker in the Basque area of Spain. I got a little bit of a history lesson on how the Mondragon cooperative came into being and also some interesting insight into how the broad-based cooperative works. It’s a fascinating business model, a socially responsible or collectivist take on capitalism that works particularly well in certain circumstances (Issue 34, 2009).
I conducted an interview with Richard Parry-Jones (he of the first Ford Focus and now heavily involved with the UK’s Automotive Council) in 2010 that was a real joy. Part of the joy was the sheer crispness of his answers. This engineer can express and order his thoughts very clearly indeed. Perhaps that’s not a surprise, for a talented chap like that. What amazed me was that he was able to perform so well with his answers while driving a car. We began the lengthy call with him in Wales, near his home. When we ended it, he was pulling into a suburban London Underground railway station to park up. And the call duration perfectly fitted his journey time. Ah, the neatness of it all, the perfectly calibrated symmetry. Great insights, also (Issues 36 and 37, 2010).
The Paris Motor Show in 2010 will go down in the annals as one where Lotus pushed the boat out a bit. Several future model concepts were rolled out and there were celebs present including supermodel Naomi Campbell, Hollywood actors Mickey Rourke and Stephen Baldwin. Interesting times ahead were certainly promised on that evidence. I’ll say no more, but you can read an account of the Paris razzmatazz at the time in proActive (issue-39).
What can you say about Bob Lutz? The guy’s a living legend and he’s still pretty active. I interviewed him for proActive down the telephone one Saturday evening in the summer of 2011. After communicating via his personal hotmail account, he gave me his home telephone number to ring at a certain time on Saturday. I was now calling at the prearranged time. A woman answered. “Good evening, this is the Robert Lutz residence. How may I help you?” I explained who I was and why I was calling. She seemed to know nothing of the arrangement but put me through anyway. I wondered what to expect. I need not have worried. Bob Lutz was superb value for money as an interview subject. I recall that he was full of praise for the Obama bailout of General Motors and full of criticism for those who mocked GM as Government Motors. He also wants European-style taxes on fuel to encourage people into smaller cars. And I had the chance to ask him about the ‘global warming is a crock of shit’ remark. After we were done, he said he it was nice afternoon over there and was going for a ride on his motorcycle. Maximum Bob! (Issue 41, 2011).
What does a technical director at a Formula One team actually do? I got the chance to fire a whole load of questions at Lotus Team F1 Technical Director James Allison and that was certainly a fascinating insight into a glamorous but extremely hard-working world. Does he like the travelling to those exotic places where the F1 races take place? He likes it when he gets there, but the travelling itself, he loathes that. Truth is, he likes being at home (Issue 44, 2012).
Richard Noble held the land speed record for quite a few years. In the interview with him and his colleague Mark Chapman, we learned a fair bit about the business of going very fast, dealing with sponsors and how to make the whole shooting match work. More importantly, I thought, there was the notion of trying to get kids interested in engineering. And I learned about somatographic illusion (Issue 50, 2013).
Well, that’s a highly selective window on the last ten years on proActive. I could highlight loads more but space won’t permit. I’ve very much enjoyed working with Lotus on proActive and I’m looking forward to helping put together future issues. Obviously, I hope you enjoy reading proActive. C’mon, of course you do, it’s free to subscribe to!
On this tenth anniversary let me just say also that Lotus is a company and brand that it’s hard not to feel great affection for. There’s the history, the racing heritage, the cars, the Lotus ethos going back to founder Colin Chapman and the sheer resilience of the company – and it’s all centred in rural Norfolk just outside the fine city of Norwich (where I went to University back when dinosaurs roamed). Besides the sports car business, there’s the considerable engineering expertise held in the Lotus Engineering division, a kind of unsung hero that works mainly under the radar. If only they could talk publicly about some of the projects they work on! But there is a serious point here: Lotus is an automotive OEM as well as an engineering services company.
Any truly successful company has good people working for it and Lotus is no exception. As a Lotus manager Peter Morgan put it succinctly in one of the early issues of proActive: “Lotus is unlike any other company and it has a unique culture of its own”.
Long may that continue to be the case. Happy reading.
Writer: Dave Leggett ⎢just-auto.com