This is how Lotus will build lightweight electric sports cars

Of all the automakers that are in the process of switching from internal combustion to electric propulsion, few interest me as much as Lotus. This is partly because I became a car enthusiast after discovering the Lotus Seven. But that’s also because lightness has always been a core attribute of Lotus, and while EVs have a lot to recommend, they usually aren’t.

That would be irrelevant until relatively recently, as the small British sports car company did not have the resources to consider a switch to electric. But in 2017, Lotus was taken over by Geely, who also owns a freshly revitalized Volvo. As is the case with Geely, Lotus secured much-needed investments and got to work on electrification.

In April this year, Lotus revealed that its plans now included four new platforms, three of which were fully electric. This week, we got a glimpse of how the company is considering electric vehicles, as it released some details on its light electric vehicle architecture (or “Project LEVA” in Lotus parlance). Key is a newly developed rear subframe that’s much lighter than that of the V6-powered Emira (unveiled in July as the latest internal combustion-engine Lotus).

The rear subframe is die-cast aluminum and intelligently supports more than one type of powertrain setup. There’s the conventional skateboarding approach, where a large plate of batteries fills the floor of the car between the axles, as seen on virtually every battery-powered EV on sale today. Lotus says that in this configuration it can build 2 + 2 with wheelbases of at least 104.3 inches (2650 mm), with batteries of 66.4 kWh and be a single motor drive unit with a maximum power of 470 hp (350 kW) or a dual motor drive unit with a maximum of 872 hp (650 kW).

A skate is not always the answer

But for pure two-seater sports cars, the layout of the skateboard isn’t quite ideal. In these applications, a lower ride height and a lower overall vehicle height are important. So instead of placing the cockpit on top of a large slab of batteries, Lotus will use what it calls a “trunk” layout.

Here, the battery is mounted in the center, like the engine of one of Lotus’ current cars. (This is the same powertrain setup that Porsche used for the Mission R concept, and it’s also used by most of those unobtanium electric hypercars with phone number price tags.)

Lotus says that the central mounting of the battery leads to two possible configurations. For the smallest and lightest electric sports cars, that means a wheelbase of at least 97.2 inches (2470 mm); for context, a Lotus Elise has a wheelbase of 90.6 inches (2300 mm). These small electric vehicles would carry a 66.4 kWh pack and use a single electric drive unit of up to 470 hp.

For large two-seater sports cars (think Lotus Esprit rather than Lotus Elise), the wheelbase can be extended to at least 104.3 inches. These cars would be equipped with a two-motor drive unit and a 99.6 kWh battery.

Richard Rackham, Head of Vehicle Concepts at Lotus and Lead Engineer of the LEVA Project, said:

The LEVA project is today as revolutionary as the Elise architecture was in 1996. In the true Lotus spirit, significant weight savings have been achieved throughout, with an emphasis on performance, efficiency and ultimate safety in the structure from the start, for example using the vehicle structure as a battery box, having an integrated EDU, eliminating sub-frames and optimizing multi-link suspension components.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting a bit for the first lightweight Lotus EVs, which are not expected until 2026. But we might well see the architecture used much earlier by other OEMs – Lotus will offer it to third parties through the office of Lotus Engineering studies.

Listing image by Lotus Cars

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