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26 May, 2006 - 09:57 By Staff Reporter

Lotus selects Norfolk plant to manufacture Esprit successor

Manufacturing in the East of England has received a major boost with the news that the vehicle set to replace the classic Lotus Esprit will be built at Group Lotus’ Hethel headquarters in Norfolk.

The new high-performance mid-engined sports car is expected to enter production in Spring 2008 and will be positioned at the higher end of the Lotus range.

Hethel was chosen following what was described as an extensive evaluation of several worldwide manufacturing facilities by Group Lotus and its owner, Malaysia’s Proton Holdings Bhd.

Up-to-date numbers for the new car have not been revealed, though last year Lotus spokesman, Alistair Florance, did say initial volumes would be in the low thousands, adding that future vehicles based on similar platforms could reach a much higher volume of manufacturing.

Lotus is in the midst of a long-term drive to improve manufacturing efficiencies and flexibilities at Hethel, intended to lead to further improvements and gains leading up to the start of production.

Mike Kimberley, chief executive for Group Lotus, said: “The decision to choose Hethel has not been taken lightly and was influenced not only by our past achievements, but also by firm future commitments to improve the efficiencies and flexibilities within our manufacturing facility.

“We have a lot of work to do between now and the start of production and this will demand much commitment and hard work from us all at Lotus.”

The news should be welcomed locally. Only last year, in the face of surging demand, the supercar manufacturer had to reassure staff it was committed to Hethel for at least another 10 years.

The new car production decision was made in the slipstream of the news that Lotus Engineering will build a 108-staffed research and development facility in North Carolina (NC), USA.

The facility will be backed by up to $1.49 million (£0.8m) over two years from a Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) delivered by the NC state government.

JDIGs are awarded to new and expanding business and industrial projects whose benefits exceed their costs to the state and which would not be undertaken in NC without the grant.

The NC Department of Commerce estimates the project will generate a cumulative gross product value of about $108m (£57.6m) and produce a positive, cumulative net state revenue impact of $4.9m (£2.6m).

For each year in which Lotus meets the required performance targets, NC will provide a grant equal to 65 per cent of the state personal income withholding taxes derived from the creation of new jobs.

If the company creates the jobs called for under the agreement and sustains them for nine years, the agreement could yield as much as $1.49m (£0.8m) in maximum benefits to Lotus.

State Governor, Mike Easley, said: “We will continue to make the necessary investments in workforce development, education and infrastructure to ensure our state remains competitive in this industry.”

Lotus plans to open the R & D facility at the proposed Advanced Vehicle Research Center later this year. Located near Garysburg, it is designed to provide a safe, secure, and private environment while reducing the time and cost of product R & D.

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