LONDON -- Lotus is preparing for an expansion under Chinese owner Geely Automobile Holdings that could see the British automaker open a second U.K. factory and target new markets by building higher-volume models in China.
Lotus plans to triple output at its base in Hethel, eastern England, to slightly more than 5,000 cars a year and could reach 10,000 if it adopts a double-shift work pattern, the CEO said in an interview. Further increases might require a new plant elsewhere in the country, he said.
Popham described Lotus as a "70-year-old startup" after the launch of its first new car in 10 years. The 1.7 million-pound ($2.1 million) all-electric Evija will be followed by a solely combustion-engine model to be revealed in 2020, after which all subsequent cars will have electric variants, possibly skipping a hybrid option which the CEO said can add too much weight for a sports design.
Lotus's 10-year growth plan includes an expansion into new segments, Popham said after unveiling the Evija at an event in London where it displayed past models including the 1960s-vintage Elan and the wedge-shaped Esprit.
That could include anything from an SUV through a crossover model to a sedan. The company made 1,632 cars in 2018 and expects to top 1,700 this year.
Geely Chief Technical Officer Feng Qingfeng, also CEO of Group Lotus following a takeover by the Zhejiang-based automaker in 2017, told journalists that while Lotus's core sports lineup would continue to be built in the UK, higher-volume models could be made in China.
"The manufacturing location depends on the local advantage," he said. "The UK is good at making hand-made cars, so sports and hypercars. In China we may have more advantage in infrastructure for mass-production cars."
Popham said there is scope for Lotus to work with other Geely companies, which include Sweden's Volvo Cars and Proton of Malaysia, the U.K. brand's former owner, though there is no question of re-badging other platforms with the name, and neither would the same model be made in multiple locations.
Speaking to Bloomberg, the CEO said Lotus has secured the first few orders for the Evija in recent weeks and expects to sell the "halo" model, which will have a production run of just 130 cars, to buyers from around the world.
Despite the Evija's hypercar credentials, which will see it vie with the Pininfarina Battista and Rimac Automobili's Concept One, as well as top-end conventional models from automakers such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, Popham said future cars will remain within Lotus's established 50,000 pounds to 150,000 pounds ($62,000 to $187,000) price bracket, though there is some scope for moving upscale.
Feng ruled out an early return to Formula One, where Lotus was once a dominant force, while saying he expects the company to do more in motor sport generally.
Lotus has no major concerns about Brexit, Popham said. A U.K. split from the European Union on Oct. 31 now seems likely given commitments from the candidates to succeed Theresa May as prime minister, he said.
The company has stockpiled parts in case of a no-deal exit, but the CEO said any impact would be limited and predicted that new trade accords would be rapidly concluded.
"We are a nation that's historically one of the biggest traders in the global market, always have been, always will be, so it's matter of time before a new deal is done with Europe and other trading partners around the world," he said.