His name is Silvayn Verstraeten and he is the Director of Attribute Integration at Lotus. Simply put: he is the one who, given the objectives of an automotive project, chooses the most appropriate technical solutions to achieve them. A sort of 'chef' who, knowing the taste of the dish he wants to serve, knows where to take the best ingredients and integrate them.
Quite a difficult task for a brand as "fundamentalist" and sporty as Lotus, which today relies on cars with characteristics diametrically opposed to those of its own tradition. But this Belgian engineer, with a background at Toyota and Aston Martin, has taken up the challenge and we spoke to him about how he intends to forge the dynamic qualities of the Lotus of the new era.
What are the distinctive elements of a Lotus in 2023?
"The most important thing is that every Lotus is built around the driver. We want cars that are beautiful to drive for customers who love to drive them and that give excellent feedback by always reacting in the world they want. Every Lotus should behave naturally.
For example, when we set the four-wheel steering system, we pay a lot of attention to this naturalness, trying to give an analogue feel rather than a digital or 'plastic' feel.
We have also taken into account the fact that you don't always drive on the racetrack or in a sporty way, but that you can also enjoy a Lotus in everyday life. And here the large amount of digitalisation adds something important so that you always have an easy and pleasant car in your hands.
Lotus Emeya, the interior
Electrification changes the way the car 'feels'. How does it feel to you?
"Electrification, in a way, represents an opportunity to better connect the driver with the car and the road. Sure, we lose the sound of the engine and the music of a nice V12, but there are many things that electric motors can bring more to the table than engines.
For example, their responsiveness, combined with an incredibly smooth delivery, makes it possible to combine extreme performance with a very relaxed drive. A high-performance electric car is, at the same time, very easy to drive. Of course, the weight is higher and we are working hard to reduce it, but it is also important where the masses are placed, how they are distributed, the centre of gravity and inertia.
We can put the battery, which is the heaviest part, in the lowest part of the car, put the motors within the wheelbase, reduce the overhangs... these are all elements that benefit the dynamics, especially the 'linearity' of the load transfers between the two axles. Reducing weight is the main challenge and that is the ultimate goal; in the meantime, we can work on making them more manageable.
Why does the Emeya, despite being shorter, have a longer wheelbase than the Eletre?
"For styling and habitability reasons. The designers wanted a certain balance of proportions and the front pillar attachment to match the end of the spoiler.
They also wanted to compensate in the rear for the lost headroom and still offer a Gran Turismo experience.
The 2,000 bhp Evija has four motors, like other electric hypercars, because they ensure maximum body control. Do you think one day even the more 'normal' Lotus models will have them?
"We know the advantages of all the solutions and it is my job to assess their suitability for the objectives we have in mind for a road or track car, strictly sporty or even comfortable for travelling.
For example, a Lotus with two electric motors transmits two thirds of the power to the rear wheels and one third to the front wheels so that it has certain driving characteristics. And if you want it to have them all the time, you can't give the front wheels more than a certain amount of power, not only because it's more difficult to transmit it to the ground, but also because you have to take into account the steering reactions.
At the moment, we think we can achieve this not only with the electronics, but also with the two-speed gearbox for the rear motor. Maybe in the future we will consider other options given the technologies that will be available to us.
The new Lotus centre in Paris
Some sports brands are developing axial-flow engines. Are you thinking of doing the same?
"No, for the moment we are not thinking about such solutions or engines inserted inside the wheels or with unsprung masses. We believe they are not efficient in terms of safety and efficiency.
At the moment you have two models in your range that Lotus has never had before and with characteristics that are far from typical for a Lotus, such as weight. In the future, do you plan to move closer to the fundamentals of the brand and how do you plan to make a Lotus with more traditional characteristics through electrification?
"For that, the road is still long. We have already embarked on it, but we will have to be patient. We started four years ago with Eletre and Emeya, we have tried to do our best by setting very high targets and we are very satisfied with the reaction of the customers.
We are learning a lot of things from them that will be useful to improve future products, but also the current ones, because with over-the-air updates we can act on cars that are already on the road. So to make a modern Lotus more like a 'traditional' Lotus we will have this extra tool and we have it precisely because of digitalisation and electrification.
So I am confident that we will be able to offer products that are better in terms of comfort, ride and handling than if they had an internal combustion engine. This is more difficult to achieve with sports cars, but I am confident that we will achieve it in a few years' time.
The Eletre R, with the rear-mounted engine and two-speed gearbox, has a different strategy to the Porsche Taycan, as the shifts are made at a much higher speed. Why this choice?
"We chose this shape because we believe it is the best balance between performance and efficiency. If we had also opted for a gear change at a lower speed, the customer would have noticed it more often.
Instead, we opted for a shorter ratio to be used as often as possible to improve performance and responsiveness. There are also more complex technical issues, related to weight and overall dimensions, that reinforced this choice.
We talked about how to turn electrification into sportiness - how does Lotus differentiate itself from other electric sports car brands?
"You have to make a different argument for each segment. If you look at the E-segment of SUVs, I don't think there are competitors for our Eletre, but I think a lot of people coming from cars of the same size or from different segments are surprised by its driveability, its balance and its comfort. And that's the aspect that surprises them the most, maybe because they know it's a Lotus.
But if you were to drive a Model S or a Taycan and then an Emeya, what differences would you notice?
"I think what will impress will be the combination of dynamic performance and comfort, the charging speed and the sporty luxury ambience of the cabin."