Accelerating the future of motoring: The Lotus Advanced Technology Centre at Wellesbourne
A recent partnership between Warwick, WMG and the legendary vehicle manufacturer Lotus Cars is helping keep the company in pole position.
When Colin Chapman made his first car in his garage in 1948, he could never have known it was the first step to building a business empire that would remain at the cutting-edge of automotive engineering for another 74 years and counting.
Then again, perhaps he could, for Chapman was that kind of man; a visionary thinker with a passion for perfection whose self-confidence was matched only by his genius.
Today, Lotus Cars employs more than 1,000 people worldwide and continues to push the boundaries by combining the technical and the aesthetic in its unique designs.
The company is renowned for pioneering the production of lightweight vehicles – one of which famously turned into a submarine in the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.
It’s a story that Chapman, who died in 1982, would doubtless be proud of.
And it’s a story built on his own principles of innovation, experimentation and improving performance by reducing mass.
A space for specialists
Yet developing the next generation of cars requires not only the right values and thinking, but also the right facilities.
It was for this reason that in 2020, Lotus chose the University of Warwick’s Wellesbourne Campus as the site for both its specialist Advanced Technology Centre and its new engineering consultancy headquarters.
Established in partnership with WMG, the academic department at Warwick that partners with the private and public sectors to drive forward science, technology and engineering, the site soon welcomed 130 Lotus engineers – with abundant room for more to follow.
“Wellesbourne offers plenty of expansion potential and will be the perfect home for our new advanced technology centre,” said Lotus Cars CEO Phil Popham at the time.
“Having research partners at the University and WMG will bring significant benefits, as will the Midlands location, which is both very accessible and home to a rich pool of automotive talent.
Designing the cars of tomorrow today
Much of the work that happens in the offices, workshops and laboratory spaces at Wellesbourne is focused on electric vehicles.
That may be a reflection of the future of the automotive industry and the present-day market, but it’s also especially fitting for Lotus.
For electric vehicles to be as efficient, cost-effective and desirable as possible, they must also be as lightweight as possible – precisely the approach Colin Chapman took from the outset.
“Adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere,” he once said.
And so, as electric vehicle manufacturers scramble to reduce motor mass and make batteries smaller to improve performance, Lotus Cars is ahead of the pack thanks to its history and its new engineering facilities.
Of particular focus at the new site has been the impressive all-electric Lotus Evija hypercar.
Capable of generating 1,972 horsepower and 1,704nm torque, it can reach 186mph in 9.1 seconds – yet still has a target range of 215 miles.
The company’s consultancy division is making headway from Wellesbourne, too.
Last year, it engaged with Alpine, the performance brand of Groupe Renault, to lead the development of a new electric sports car architecture that should see new models launched later this decade.
Work is also underway on powertrain programmes, vehicle dynamics and vehicle platforms for a range of start-up manufacturers from across the world – all at the Advanced Technology Centre.
At the heart of the action
For Lotus, there are myriad benefits of having a home at Warwick.
“Moving there will support the transformation we have planned,” said Dan Burge, Commercial Director at Lotus Engineering, ahead of the move.
“We’re particularly looking forward to collaborating with our new neighbours; the Midlands is well-known for the wealth of automotive, motorsport and performance engineering businesses, suppliers, research partners and universities based there.”
The partnership between Warwick, WMG and Lotus is having a positive impact on the local area, too.
“This is just the beginning,” said Professor Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor of the University in 2020.
“I know that it will grow, thrive and bring prosperity and new opportunities to both Warwickshire and the West Midlands, and will call on and benefit from the significant automotive and technology skills and talents of many people in our region.”
As Lotus continues to innovate the development of electric vehicles, bringing local jobs and global opportunities along for the ride, the future looks limitless.
It’s a world away from that first project in Colin Chapman’s garage in 1948.