Lotus certainly goes through bosses. It’s not quite nine years since Dany Bahar’s acrimonious departure from the sports car maker, but new managing director Matt Windle is the fifth man to lead the business since then – with his well-regarded predecessor Phil Popham only just getting past two years at the top.
But unlike many of those before him, Windle hasn’t been promoted to leadership at a time of crisis or after a change in leadership. His move from the role of engineering director was an orderly one, and he remains committed to the Vision 80 plan put in the place by Popham. It’s one that will give Lotus an all-new model range as soon as next year, then move aggressively towards both electrification and a dramatic increase in global sales soon afterwards.
Affable, approachable and energetic, Windle is the antithesis of some of his aloof predecessors, with a CV that proves his desire for fresh challenges. He started out at Lotus in 1998 and then moved to Tesla after working on the original Roadster. His subsequent career included stints with Nissan, Caterham and Volvo, and he was part of the team behind sports car startup Zenos. Windle rejoined Lotus in 2017 – the year Geely completed its takeover, and realised that, as he puts it: “There was a proper car company here – it just needed the products and the investment”. He continues: “That’s what we’ve done now. Hethel is the most modern it has ever been, we’re going to have the newest automated paint shop in the world and a world-class manufacturing facility creating all-new products.
Development on the Evija and Emira – the car previously known to us as the Type 131 – was already substantially complete when Windle took charge in January. Now his big challenge is getting both to market, most significantly the Emira, which will collectively replace the much-loved but slow-selling Elise, Exige and Evora. “I bumped into somebody today who said ‘it’s 80 days to launch’,” he says. “That’s how close it is; we’re talking days rather than months.”
As well as being Lotus’s last combustion-engined car, the Emira is intended to have a broader appeal than the outgoing trio. “I think Lotus in the past has maybe been a bit guilty of engineering something it thought people wanted and then putting it to the market,” Windle admits. “Now we’re trying to engineer something that people actually want.”
Unashamedly benchmarked against rivals including the Porsche 718 Cayman and Porsche 911, the Emira will offer the choice between a new turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (Windle remains coy as to where it’s coming from) and the Evora’s supercharged V6. The smaller engine will be exclusively available with a dual-clutch gearbox; the V6 will keep the option of either manual or fully automatic transmission.
“We’ve tried to cover as many bases as possible,” Windle says. “Two powerplants will enable us to cover most of that market. It’s a Lotus that you can live with; we’ve given it broader appeal, but it’s still a fantastic sports car with a range of different models that will go from a base spec up to an R.”
Windle on owning cars
“I’ve always been able to drive different products and I’ve never got into a car collection; I’ve always enjoyed using the company garage when I’ve been able to. I have had some semi-interesting cars over the years: an Alfa Romeo 156 V6 sticks out as one of my favourites. I am, however, buying a final-edition Elise. I’d always promised myself one and it’s now or never, so I’m investing in one. It seems appropriate.”
Windle on Elon Musk
“We had a close relationship when I worked for Tesla. He is incredibly intelligent: I think he had about four brains on the go at the same time: ‘what are you going to do, when are you going to do it, have you done it?’. He wasn’t scared to make decisions, and I think that’s a really big thing. I’ve been in big companies where decisions have to go right the way to the top and then come down, and you don’t recognise them by the time they come back.”