Lotus, the esteemed British specialty builder established by the brilliant-but-flawed Colin Chapman, has closed a significant chapter in its history this week. Now under joint Chinese and Malaysian ownership, Lotus brought an uncommonly long production cycle to a close at Lotus Cars’ headquarters in Hethel, Norfolk, where the final copies of its Elise, Exige and Evora sports cars were assembled this week. Production of the three lines could trace its roots back 26 years, reaching to 1996 when the first-generation Elise and Exige were first introduced. Product evolution tends to be gradual at Lotus – the immortal Seven is still being offered by other specialized manufacturers – but the closure of three model ranges at once stands as a true Lotus landmark.
Over the course of their combined runs, the Lotus trio accounted for total sales of 51,738 units, an astronomical number by Lotus standards. The Elise and Exige are enduring veterans of the Lotus small car platform, which also, for a time, underpinned home-market sporting pieces from Opel and Vauxhall, continuing a partnership between Lotus and General Motors that produced such items as the jointly GM-marketed and Lotus-badged Isuzu I-Mark sedan and Impulse sports coupe, which were briefly marketed through Chevrolet dealers under the Geo sub-brand, for those who care to remember. The Hethel assembly lines for all three Lotus cars will be dismantled as the factory retools for the forthcoming Lotus Emira, due in the spring.