By 9:30 the tension in the Lotus Booth was palpable, you could sense the sheer energy of anticipation from the staff manning the presentation. Arnie Johnson,thirty years with Lotus in the United States, now President and CEO of Lotus Cars USA taking questions from the Senior Editors of large circulation American car
Tony Shute, eighteen years with Lotus, two as Head of Product Development, Manager of the first Elise Project, hands clasped tightly as he reviewed every detail on each car. The man who ordered that durability tests be run, and run again, and run again, because failure was unacceptable.
Nick Adams, with Lotus for eighteen years, Vehicle Development Manager. Nick Adams, the man with such enthusiasm and strong opinions on what was needed for the Elise world car that he was given the opportunity to ask of each and every component. "How heavy is it? How much does it cost? How do I get rid of it?"
He allowed allen screws to be used to hold the heater control knobs in place to insure that they never dropped off into your hand. Nick was ready, willing, eager to dive into highly specific technical questions with Press on how this part or that worked. You could sense the wheels turning as he ran through the alternatives and how it would affect several other parts.
Steven Crijns, Designer of the Series Two Elise, the man who, working with Russell Carr, took the results of the wind tunnel testing and reshaped and icon, painstakingly caressing it to make it into a very sharp and cutting edge design.
Alastair Florance, PR Manager, quiet spirit, self-effacing, the first man you usually meet, standing at the ready, willing and able to field any and all questions.
Dave Simkin, Field Service Engineer, a solid built man pulsating with the knowledge that this was only the beginning. Soon it would his turn to make sure that Dealers and everyone involved would do there part to insure that every single effort that can be made, will be made, to make sure that nothing goes wrong. And that if it does, it is taken care of correctly, first time, can't be done being the wrong answer, the very wrong answer, and one neither he nor Lotus won't accept.
Clyde Shepard, After Sales Administrator in Georgia, the man whom anyone who needs any parts or pieces will call, shout at, grind or bless when they need a part, and the man who will drive himself to get it to them, yesterday.
And the godfather of the Federal Elise Project, Roger Becker, Senior Consultant, Vehicle Engineering, with Lotus since 1966. One of the people that drove themselves and their families very hard. He brought in and pounded himself doing international consultancy work that meant cold hard cash to fund projects like the Federal Elise.
This is not to speak any less of the other Lotus Team people who did not take Christmas Holiday and instead chose to stand for ten to twelve hours, day after day, greeting Press and Public until they grew horse answering questions in the dry air of the Convention Center.
By the time Mark O'Shaunessy, Director of Public Relations for Lotus Cars USA began to make the Official Launch several hundred of the Press were bunched more than four deep and were unusually hushed. Performance through adding lightness, the Lotus Mantra was clearly expressed. And in spite of the perfect storm caused by the radical drop in the value of the dollar, the car will be priced, well equipped, at $39,985.
You could hear the rapt audience whispering "wow! hot car, this thing is going to sell."
A television crew from one of the major LA stations swooped in with a speaker sound bite of; "If you can't afford $450,000 how about the Lotus Elise? Zero to sixty in 4.9 seconds, tremendous handling and very affordable at under $40,000.00" There was a very strong sense to the crowd of the American phenomenon of cheering for the underdog, particularly when they have hit a home run.
The Official US Launch of the Elise had started right on schedule at 10:50 AM and ran until 11:20 AM. The next stop would be the manicured presentation and high end grazing opportunity at Bentley booth. The Press drifted down the hallway and the tremendous energy level subsided and waned in the Lotus Booth with a very post climactic sense of relief and calm taking its place.
The years of waiting were over. No one had to state it, there was no more need for promises that might or might not be kept. The Elise was now on US soil. The Press was almost ready to anoint it the next revolution in the American Sports Car Market as it did with the arrival of the Elan in early 1960s. The bets were being hedged. In the last few years Lotus has worked diligently to produce cars that perform incredibly, delightfully and don't break. Never before have they brought to the US a vehicle so thoroughly tested, and tested again, and tested again, to insure that nothing goes wrong. But this is still an almost handmade car, and not everything will go right, for every owner, every time.
Except for Lotus no one has ever come to the market before with a simple light weight machine that could meet and exceed current supercar performance standards at a price that would appeal to a the average middle-to-upper end sports car buyer. The very fact that Lotus has met their goal is an enormous achievement. That anyone who drives the car walks away with an ear to ear grin that can last the entire day is what will truly sell this handsome little car. Congratulations Lotus, job well done.
Chris Smith of Columbus Georgia has taken delivery of the very first Federal Lotus Elise. In December 2003, he put a deposit down with Lotus of Atlanta, the #1 Lotus Esprit Dealership in the United States for 2003.
He ordered Ardent Red with the Touring Package, this included additional sound deadening, cargo net, upgraded Blaupunkt Los Angeles stereo. Another option Chris got was the dealer-installed "clear bra " after strong recommendations from members of the SELOC Elise UK bbs.
After picking up the car he "drove it home 140 miles in rush hour traffic." "I was up to 100 mph before I even knew it ~ the engine wasn't even working hard." He is following the factory manual break-in recommendations of varying moderate throttle with bursts of high rpm for short periods during the first 600 miles, and staying under 6250 (where the variable valve timing kicks in).
You could hear his ear to ear grin as he spoke about his new steed.
More news coming up as Lotus Cars USA issues a Press Release on expectations for other Elise Deliveries. Stay tuned to this channel.