Geely-owned Group Lotus says pre-production of its upcoming Emira model is underway at new dedicated facilities in Norfolk, England.
Total investment in UK facilities now stands at more than £100 million, which includes two new production halls at the company’s home in Hethel, Norfolk. One is now in pre-production for the Emira, the new Lotus sports car to be unveiled at Hethel on Tuesday 6 July. The other, for the Evija all-electric hypercar, has completed prototype production and first customer cars will be built later this year.
Hethel – the Lotus Advanced Performance Centre – has also benefitted from an all-new high tech automated paint shop, a retail design studio to highlight the new visual identity for the business’s expanding retail network and a new on-site restaurant. This follows investment made last year to upgrade the legendary Lotus test track and equip engineering workshops with equipment to further support electric vehicle development.
The workforce at Lotus’ Norfolk sites at Hethel and Norwich has almost doubled since October 2017 when Geely became the majority shareholder. With the launch of Emira, Lotus is creating more than 200 new operations roles and recruitment is now under way.
Additional investment has been made at Lotus’ other UK sites, including all-new facilities in nearby Norwich, and in the Midlands in partnership with the University of Warwick.
Every pound spent has been with the clear target of further enhancing the technology, quality, efficiency and sustainability behind production of Lotus cars and the services offered by Lotus Engineering, the consultancy division of the business.
Details of the investment by Lotus include:
Investment in Sports Car Operations, Hethel (factory for Emira production) New paint shop: This state-of-the art facility supports robotised paint application, a first for Lotus in more than seven decades of car manufacture that will improve quality and through-put of vehicles. It also features other innovative technologies, such as a combined primer and clearcoat line. The system is highly efficient; dry filtration uses 60% less energy than a wet system, while an electrostatic primer on body panels will reduce paint usage by 30-40%. Installation is almost complete and the facility has been locked down during May while deep cleaning takes place. ‘Dry’ commissioning will commence shortly so the physical systems – eg, conveyors, transfers, lifts, ovens – can be tested. ‘Wet’ commissioning will follow later in the summer.
New framing line: Now operational, the framing line is building car bodies as part of Emira pre-production, with robots applying bonding agent to the sides, roof and cantrails.
Automatically Guided Vehicles (AGVs): AGVs allow for the highly efficient movement of cars in build on set routes around the factory, allowing operations colleagues to focus on assembling the vehicles. Routes are easily reprogrammed, creating a flexible and future-proof approach to Lotus sports car manufacturing. Each AGV has a height adjustment system so operators can position the car on it at exactly the right ergonomic height for them.
New main assembly hall: The centrepiece of Hethel’s upgrades is the most visible, adjacent to Potash Lane and obvious to anyone visiting the factory. The all-new 12,000m2 main assembly hall is the size of 1.5 football pitches, with a glass-walled mezzanine operations deck above. All station gantries have now been installed. Wheel Alignment and Headlamp Aim (WAHA) equipment, a Vehicle Configuration and Test System (VCaTS), monsoon water test booth, rolling road and fuel fill area are all installed and will be commissioned by the end of June.
The entire Sports Car Operations production facility is powered by 100% renewable electricity thanks to a partnership with energy supplied Centrica.
David Hewitt, Executive Director, Operations, Lotus, said: “The move to a part-robotised production is the right one for Lotus as we launch the Emira. Everything is about repeatability and efficiency to drive quality. Our workforce is incredibly skilled, and robots help them to deliver the consistency we need at the volume we need it.”
Heewitt added: “Our cars will remain ‘Handmade in Hethel’, though our people will be supported by new processes and technologies that will only enhance efficiency and build quality. It is a ‘best of both worlds’ solution.”
There is further investment at Hethel in the Evija production hall, where the project team is ramping up work as the car moves towards full production later this year. In addition, Hethel now has an all-new restaurant for both Lotus colleagues working on site and any visitors. Lotus has partnered with another iconic Norfolk name – TV chef and author Delia Smith – to provide a high-quality and value-for-money catering service.
One end of the restaurant building is now home to the Lotus Retail Design Studio, showcasing the company’s new visual identity for showrooms. This is now being rolled out in Lotus retail outlets around the world.
Investment at Lotus Advanced Structures (LAS), Norwich New fabrication facility: Announced in July 2020, LAS is Lotus’ new fabrication facility in Norwich, just a few miles from Hethel. Consolidating chassis assembly from Lotus Lightweight Structures in Worcester with subframe and fuel tank assembly from another facility in Norwich, relocating both into LAS will increase efficiency and dramatically reduce logistics costs and transport emissions.
The chassis and front-end assembly line, including robot bonding agent application, is now operational at LAS, supplying components for the pre-production of Emira. Eight new CNC milling machines are being installed, plus four more transported from Worcester. A new laser cutting machine is being commissioned to manufacture fuel tanks, rear subframes and many of the steel and aluminium components used on the vehicle.
Lotus Learning Academy: The launch of the Emira is creating more than 200 new operations roles at Lotus and recruitment is now under way. These colleagues are among the first to pass through the all-new Lotus Learning Academy, which is based at LAS.
Investment at Lotus Advanced Technology Centre (LATC) Investment has taken place at LATC, an engineering base for the business in the UK’s Midlands. The region is a focal point for automotive and engineering performance innovation, and so is the perfect location for Lotus’ high voltage development and testing centre. It’s also the ideal home for the Lotus Engineering consultancy. Announced in July 2020, LATC is on the Wellesbourne campus of the University of Warwick.
The investment in Lotus’ UK facilities dates back to 2018, the year majority shareholder Geely and minority shareholder Etika approved Vision80, the strategic plan for the transformation of Lotus ahead of its 80th birthday in 2028.
In numbers: new Lotus Sports Car Operations building at Hethel 14,800 bricks 11,500 erection bolts 10,260m2 of steel, primed and painted 6,542m2 of roof sheets 5,377m2 of fire protection paint 3,890 sections of steel framework, weighing 48 tonnes 3,500 tonnes of stone for levelling 2,344m2 of waterproof membrane 1,555 wall cladding sheets 1,348m3 of concrete slab floor 1,100 metres of electrical ducting 816m of drainage pipes 172 glass windows 156m2 of blockwork inner skin 99 LED lights 71 opening vents 47 manhole inspection chambers 14 personnel entry / exit points 5 roller shutter car entry / exit points