On Tuesday, Lotus unveiled a battery-electric “hyper” SUV called the Eletre, the first of three electric vehicles Lotus plans to launch over the next four years.
Result? Eletre, which means “coming to life”, is the British brand’s first commercial vehicle and a key part of the anticipated high demand for luxury battery-electric SUVs. The design and luxurious interior of the car are remarkable. But some of the car’s technologies, including four lidar sensors that pop out when needed, give a better idea of what’s in store for Lotus in the future.
First the basics. The company, which is owned by Geely Automotive and Malaysian conglomerate Etika Automotive, has power, torque and a decent battery.
Electre has an 800V electrical architecture that provides fast charging without damaging the battery. There are two electric motors, one for each axle, that produce at least 600 horsepower and propel the SUV from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds. Lotus says its over 100kWh battery pack will allow the Electre to travel 573 miles on a full charge, in line with the European WLTP cycle. A 350 kW charger can add 248 miles in 20 minutes.
The Eletre comes with four riding modes, including one for off-road, which adjusts steering, damper settings, transmission and throttle response. Other equipment and features can be added, such as optional 23-inch wheels, active ground clearance, active rear axle steering, active anti-roll bar and brake-assisted torque distribution.
The car will go into production later this year at the new Lotus plant in Wuhan, China.
As Lotus’ first SUV and electric vehicle, the new model is “a turning point in our history and a clear testament to our ongoing commitment to transform our business,” said Matt Windle, president of Lotus Cars.
The aim, of course, is to turn this turning point in history into a memorable future.
Lotus hasn’t shared pricing information for the Electre, making it difficult to pinpoint competitors. Depending on the price, it could compete with the Tesla Model X or some of the more upscale SUVs that are listed as bestsellers by luxury brands from Lamborghini to Aston Martin.
The list of potential competitors continues to grow. Last week, Maserati announced plans to launch two all-electric SUVs: a battery-powered version of its Levante midsize SUV and an all-new compact crossover called the Greycell. Ferrari’s first SUV, the $300,000 Purosangue, is expected to arrive later this year.
Notably, Lotus has prepared the Eletre for the future with sensors and other hardware that can be activated via over-the-air software updates to improve or add features to the advanced driver assistance system.
Lidar, a light and distance detection sensor widely considered the key to the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles, is beginning to be adopted by automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and now Lotus. These automakers see lidar as an important sensor that provides redundancy for specific and limited autonomous driving tasks, rather than as a form of complete autonomy. at least not yet.
This is similar to how Lotus wants to use lidar in Electre. Lotus plans to use four lidar sensors that can be “positioned” or extended as needed. Lotus has stated that the lidar sensors are hidden when not needed, “projecting only onto the windshield, rear window and front wheel arches when needed”.
This lidar sensor system ultimately allows a vehicle to enter and exit a parking space through a smartphone app. But comments from Maximilian Svaz, vice president of Lotus Technology and director of the Lotus Tech Innovation Center in Germany, suggest that the company is thinking about more than just parking.
“As we move into a more autonomous era, ADAS technologies such as LIDAR sensors and cameras will become more prevalent in new vehicles,” he said in a statement. The car has the technology for today and tomorrow.
The car will also include a camera-based mirror system, which is illegal under current US law. Three separate cameras are dedicated to the rearview mirror, the second is used to create a 360-degree view of the car from above to facilitate parking, and the third is for advanced driver assistance. Lotus said the cameras work in conjunction with a lidar system to provide “autonomous driving.”
Lotus doesn’t give details on what “autonomous driving” means, other than parking ambitions. While the hardware described by Lotus is state of the art, several challenges need to be overcome, including a system with processing power and software, and a seamless user interface, before a vehicle can have efficient and safe autonomous driving features.
But four lidar sensors and three cameras suggest the company’s ambition extends to other limited or conditionally autonomous driving features.
Other innovations include what the company calls porosity, the principle of air flowing through the car as well as under, above and around it. For improved aerodynamics, range and efficiency. Lotus relied on porosity when designing the Aviza and Emira hypercars.
Now Electra has the speculation that this design innovation has become a must. Some of the most obvious examples of these ducts can be seen on the lower grille, front fenders, and taillights.
The lattice is especially interesting and includes A network of interconnected triangular petals that remain closed when the vehicle is stationary or when needed to reduce air resistance while driving. Lotus said they open up to let air into the radiator, allowing the Eletre to “breathe” as the electric motors, battery and front brakes cool.