Sports car Lotus prepares relaunch under China’s Geely — with SUV

Storied British brand goes electric at new $1.3bn Wuhan factory

RAUNHEIM, Germany — In a brand-new office building a stone’s throw from Frankfurt Airport, receptionists are switching on the illuminated Lotus logo for the first time, and workers are adding the finishing touches to the entrance as throngs of Italian, Portuguese and German speakers walk through.

Observers say the language mixture reflects the effectiveness of Lotus‘ recruitment drive among carmakers, automotive suppliers and Formula One racing teams across Europe and Brazil.

Four years after Zhejiang Geely Holding Group acquired a controlling stake in iconic U.K.-based sports carmaker Lotus from Malaysian conglomerate DRB-Hicom, Geely is completing a Lotus Tech Innovation Centre (LTIC) in the small German town of Raunheim staffed by roughly 150 engineers from more than 15 countries.

Engineers and other staff were snapped up from such carmakers as Porsche, Audi, Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin, Mercedes and Opel, as well as suppliers like Continental, Hella, Faurecia and Bosch. The goal is to grab market share in the premium segment from Porsche.

Lotus sales have hovered around 1,500 cars a year for the past few years, and its existing combustion-driven fleet is about to end its sales life. Now the Raunheim team is tasked with turning the brand into an electric vehicle (EV) one. Contrary to what might be expected, the team’s first model will not be the typical two-seater sports car historically associated with Lotus, but a crossover SUV tentatively named the Type 132.

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