British car maker and engineering firm Lotus has secured orders that will lead to a near doubling of sports car production.

Lotus has pre-sold 2,000 of its Elise roadsters in the US ahead of the launch of the $US40,000 ‘Federal’ version later this month, and this should bring its total output to about 4,500 cars, Lotus executive Ansar Ali told BBC News Online.

The report said the US launch comes after years of battle with local officials who have only recently agreed to approve the sparsely equipped two-seater’s safety standards.

Ali reportedly hopes that bringing the Elise to the US should help further push the company into the black, just as it prepares to reveal that it returned a profit during the year to March this year.

The BBC said another boost to Lotus has come from its continued expansion in Japan where it currently sells about 200 Elise cars a year.

Its latest model, the Exige, which went on sale at last week’s Geneva motor show, should add 100 or 200 further sales in Japan, Ali reportedly predicted.

Lotus has described the new model as a racing car that can also be used on the road and expects to sell between 600 and 700 units of the £30,000 Exige a year, about half of them in the UK.

Both the new model launch and the push into the US coincide with the phasing out of a contract to make the Speedster on behalf of General Motors Europe’s Vauxhall and Opel brands, the BBC said.

For this reason, Lotus has “the capacity and the flexibility to absorb the increase in production” of its own Elise and the Exige models, Ali told the broadcaster.

Looking ahead, Lotus also has plans to replace its Esprit supercar by late 2006 or early 2007, the report said, adding that Ali estimated the replacement would be priced between £50,000 and £70,000.

The last old Esprit rolled off the assembly line at the factory in Norwich the week before the Geneva show and its continuous presence in the US market has kept alive a network of 50 enthusiastic US dealers, Ali told the BBC.

That meant that Lotus would not have to build up a dealer network from scratch when it launches the ‘Federal’ Elise.

The BBC said with help from Malaysian car maker Proton – which acquired the remaining 20% of Lotus shares two years ago to become the sole owner – Lotus has also modified the Elise to broaden its appeal.

“What we’re trying to do with our brand is to satisfy both performance drivers and lifestyle oriented customers who like the looks of the car, but want ABS, electric windows, a CD player and carpet,” Ali reportedly said.

Driving enthusiasts who want to keep the weight down will often chose a pared-down version of the £28,000 190bhp car, while ‘poseurs’ might be more interested in a 120bhp £23,000 car with added gadgets.

Ali insisted to the BBC that the Elise is becoming ever more popular with company car drivers because its 1.8 litre engine puts it in the same emissions category as the Ford Ka, thus making it cheaper for tax reasons than cars with larger engines.

The BBC said the claim is hard to take seriously, despite Ali’s insistence that, at 40 miles to the gallon, the car is also rather economical to drive.

Both the Elise and the Exige are likely to remain cars for enthusiasts who are prepared to go through an elaborate acrobatic routine every time they get in and out of the car, the BBC noted.