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Lotus Motorcycles: Why Super-Premium Motorcycle Brands Have A Particularly Tough Road

This story emerged a few days ago, and it has taken that long for me to think about what it might mean to MD’s readers. It sounds sexy, of course, with descriptions of a planned “Lotus” production motorcycle that include phrases like “integrated racing technology” and “200 horsepower”. Lotus was originally created by Colin Chapman in the early 1950s. Chapman was a British engineer that obsessed over performance, most often embodied in minimalist, extremely light automobiles and race cars. The brand became known for production automobiles, as well as racing at the highest level in Formula One.

The original Lotus followed a road not unfamiliar to some other brands affiliated with brilliant, obsessed designers, which, at times, included both stunning execution and financial difficulties. Chapman is now deceased and the brand is again found (under successor owners) on both production sports cars, and F1 race cars (including one piloted by former F1 world champ Kimi Raikkonen).

You can read the available details in the press release below, but I wanted to offer my own observations at the same time based on a few decades observing the motorcycle industry. This endeavor, although a joint venture of undoubtedly capable and talented individuals and business entities (apparently licensing the Lotus name) will face significant hurdles familiar to several others who have attempted to launch super-premium motorcycle brands.

While wealthy automobile enthusiasts support companies like Ferrari in the four-wheel universe, in my experience as an industry observer, the formidable challenges of (1) effective R&D, (2) timely production, (3) dealer network development, (4) sustaining sufficient parts and service availability, and (5) maintaining the relentless pace of new model development frequently are too much for low volume  motorcycle start-ups aiming for Ferrari-class performance and desirabilty. Super premium motorcycles represent an extremely small niche market. A market already served by the upper tier models from established manufacturers like MV Agusta and Ducati.

The Lotus name will help, of course, and the first motorcycle planned by Lotus Motorcycles sounds quite exciting. I should also note it is unclear when I read the press release whether only one motorcycle is planned or whether this is the beginning of  a long-term endeavor. We wish the venture every opportunity for success, but we thought our readers should have some added perspective while reading the press release.

Here is the Lotus Motorcycles press release:

Lotus Motorcycles to build its own and first ever motorcycle

Lotus Motorcycles was established to design and build the first motorcycle of the iconic car manufacturer. The bike will be named Lotus C-01 and will be the most impressive appearance on public roads on two wheels. It will reflect a combination of lifestyle, design and high end technology.

Lotus Motorcycles is a joint project of Kodewa, car designer Daniel Simon and the Holzer Group. The Lotus C-01 will be a hyper bike with integrated racing technology. It will be manufactured of materials like carbon, titanium and aerospace quality steel, which are also used in Formula 1. Safety, ergonomics and design are the most important factors the design team has put emphasis on. It will be a state of the art motorbike powered by an approximately 200 horsepower engine.

Kodewa has recently built the new sports car Lotus T128 LMP (Le Mans Prototype) and is running the Lotus LMP2 program in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The team of Kodewa comprises of experts with a lot of knowledge and experience not only in endurance racing but also Formula 1, DTM and lower formulas.

The unique shapes of Lotus Motorcycles will be penned by renowned designer Daniel Simon. Simon, a former designer for Bugatti Automobiles, has lately been responsible for some of the most sophisticated concept vehicles in Hollywood film history. Amongst his most recognizable contributions are the ‘Lightcycle’ in the 2010 Disney motion picture ‘Tron: Legacy’ and the ‘Bubbleship’ used by Tom Cruise in the recent Universal Sci-Fi hit ‘Oblivion’. The German was also designing the famous black and gold livery of the Lotus LMP2 sports cars.

Daniel Simon is known for his clean and holistic concepts. The designer says: “With the Lotus C-01, we have only one ambition: to create a unique state-of-the-art machine that carries its brutal forces with elegance and style, a high-tech monster in a tailored suit. The C-01, with all its top notch components and materials, is first and foremost emotional, heartbreaking, at times playfully retro, and always clearly a Lotus. Lotus is a glamorous name with a rich history, and the C-01 celebrates it proudly: the shapes of the marvelous Lotus 49 were a main inspiration, and all color schemes pay homage to iconic Lotus racing liveries, such as the dashing black and gold. The intersection of past and future never fails to fascinate, and so does the unique idea of the C-01.”

Within the Holzer Group, the Performance GmbH is involved in the development process. The components made of titanium, carbon fibre and aerospace steel will be produced by RPC GmbH, which is also part of Holzer Group and Kodewa. Latest CNC machines linked with CAM workstations ensure highest precision and optimal workflow of the complex procedures. Because of quality inspections before, during and after the production process, a safety-related and faultless production is ensured.

In the next few weeks, images of Lotus Motorcycles will be released and will give a first insight into what to expect from the new Lotus C-01.

47 Comments

  1. SausageCreature says:

    Drive up in a Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini or similar vehicle and, love it or loathe it, everyone takes note…because they know what it is and are more or less aware of its relative exclusivity.

    Ride up on a Desmosedici, Bimota or whatever this thing may or may not turn out to be, and maybe only a few hardcore motorcyclists will even notice or care that it’s not a run-of-the-mill sport bike. Even if you were to somehow pry a Britten V1000 from a museum, the most likely comment you would get is “Whoa, sweet pink trim on that bike, bro! Your girlfriend know you borrowed it?”

    And don’t kid yourself, vanity is always a big factor when it comes to such purchases. With the vanity factor removed, you’re left with only that small subset of customers who are both wealthy and true enthusiasts.

  2. Simon says:

    They will go on sale April 1st next year.

  3. Colors says:

    “Safety, ergonomics and design are the most important factors the design team has put emphasis on.”

    Can’t be a sport bike then. More of a Volvo.

  4. ElTigre1 says:

    The picture looks like a very nice pannier, to me.

  5. Gronde says:

    I’ll bet a Haybusa/ZX-14 will blow it’s head clean off.

  6. Anon says:

    I think the real challenge here is that people with money to burn would much rather have a one off custom (still _relatively_ affordable in the bike world) than a limited production exotic. Ask how many desmodiecies did Ducati sell, and that’s your market size. Hard to make a profit on just that. Look at throw led that Bimota has had over the years, and they contr costs with off the shelf mechanicals.

    • Rocky says:

      Models of the sort that Lotus are suggesting are normally only produced by established brands as loss-leaders”, that is top-shelf products that are sold at a very high price, but still at a loss, to raise the profile and desirability of the the brand as a whole, and increase the sales of the lower priced models. There are very few loss-leader models that have gone on to become profitable in their own right – they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. The original Chevy Corvette is probably the best example, but intended market position of the ‘vette changed significantly over the years, and it clearly isn’t intended to be a loss-leader now.

      Now I love the Lotus brand (my mum owns a ’67 Elan +2), I love performance bikes, and I think the design ethos of Lotus lends itself well to performance bikes (never mind that Lotus cars have nothing to do with the design for the time being), but I cannot see a strong business case here. I think that the best success that they can realistically hope for is to build something akin to another Foggy Petronas or Norton rotary- an extremely expensive, quickly out-dated curio that will sit in the display shed of a wealthy collector for evermore.

    • anon says:

      I swear this post made sense when I typed it on my phone.
      “throw led” should be ‘the trouble’.
      “contr” should be ‘control’

  7. goose says:

    They are called BWB (British World Beaters), they appear, make a lot of noise, don’t deliver anything and then disappear. This has been going on since I started watching motorcycles in the sixties.

    As for Motus, I continue to think they are the US version of a BWB. Love to be wrong but I expect the “we’ve closed” announcement any day.

    Goose

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “They are called BWB (British World Beaters), they appear, make a lot of noise, don’t deliver anything and then disappear.”

      see entry for Norton Nemesis.

      • goose says:

        Exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote my post. The the funniest BWB I can remember was an air cooled, DOHC, eight valve, four stroke, I4 250 GP racer in the seventies. It was going to kick the TD/ TZ 250 Yamahas off the track and be cheap to buy and maintain.

        Apparently, an air cooled, four cylinder, two valve 4 developed in some guy’s garage doesn’t make more power than a water cooled two stroke twin developed by possibly the top two stroke builder of all time. And, somehow, it wasn’t cheap to maintain an engine with 10 times and many parts at the Yammie. What a shock!

        Goose

  8. Sam says:

    Lotus would just say: “Let the poor eat cake.”

    All bikes other than the new entry level bikes are way to expensive for most people, especially those in the U.S. that see bikes as weekend toys mainly.

    The ‘exotics’ are beautiful and high tech but put more than one dealer in each state!!

    I’m on my 74th new motorcycle, having a new Goldwing and a new NT700 currently but I’ve had everything from 50cc scooters to 170 mph crotch rockets so I don’t get to excited anymore, not as excited as my first streetbike when I rode legally at 15 1/2 on my new Honda 50cc C110 fun bike! Sam:)

  9. Hair says:

    Words words words. I’ll get excited when Sir Lotus pulls the sword from the stone.

  10. Chaz says:

    Has anyone determined what the part of the bike is shown in the illustration? It looks as if it could be the headlight shell. If so, this bike is already much more attractive than a speed triple.

  11. John says:

    The thing is, filthy rich people don’t ride motorcycles that much.

    Further, just owning a motorcycle makes you cool to most folks, so having a $100K one just makes people think you’re stupid.

    No one will be impressed by your $100K motorcycle, but plenty will be impressed by your $100K car.

    Motorcycling is for fans,not for wannabes, who are mostly poor anyway.

  12. Ricardo says:

    Boring, another motorcycle for the filthy rich only, impractical for the street with much power and the track since who would like to crash a $50k plus motorcycle?
    Give us some simple, beautiful and practical products like the Guzzi V7 Stone Cafe…

  13. Kim says:

    May as well send them strait to the motorcycle museums! The only people that will buy them will be rich collectors & the oh what the hell I’ll buy one to sit in the garage ubar rich!

  14. JR says:

    Well.. if a fun, light weight, affordable, “American Made” motorcycle like the Buell XB Lightning can be shut down.. then there is certainly no market for expensive crap like this.

  15. Norm G. says:

    re: “The Lotus name will help”

    the name holds considerable sway (and I’m fairly intrigued), but that’s about it. yes, they would do well to just create ONE bike and stop. then just use the effort as a marketing exercise for the brand. which i’m sure would be quite successful. see entry for BMW’s 90 concept.

    re: “While wealthy automobile enthusiasts support companies like Ferrari in the four-wheel universe”

    yeah they do…!!!

    re: “in my experience as an industry observer…”

    “…motorcyclists know not the definition of support. in their never ending quest for ‘the bigger and better deal’, they’ve lost sight of why they became motorcyclists in the first place.”

    observe how I finished off that comment for ya to reflect an unspoken reality of the past decade.

  16. Michael H says:

    So….5hp more than the $29,000 Ducati 1199 Panigale R, and 7hp more than the $16,000 BMW S1000RR?

    The difference is unusable on the street, and usable on the track only by the few most highly skilled pro racers. Most Lotus motorcycles will wind up as living room queens.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Most Lotus motorcycles will wind up as living room queens.”

      no worries. if they do a production run (and that’s one big IF), I guarantee there’s going to be a “living room” you can walk right into unannounced and ogle one if you so desire…

      ie. George Barber’s.

      motorcycles aren’t the only thing on display at the museum.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCBOWRIwCNQ

  17. Gary says:

    From a consumer standpoint, they occupy a similar niche as Bimota … exotic bodywork fitted with rather ordinary engines. The Lotus Elise, for instance, is a very exotic two-seater equipped with mildly tweaked Toyota engines. It’s hard to imagine large-scale commercial motorcycle success for an exotic chassis/carbon fiber body, equipped with, say, a Testasreta engine. On the other hand they may be able to pull it off. There are a growing number of millionaires out there. Pity I ain’t one of ‘em.

  18. Bud says:

    So in a nutshell, Kodewa, a German LMP2 racing team, is gearing up to produce super-premium priced, Lotus branded motorcycles designed by a guy whose claim to fame is designing Hollywood movie props and race car paint jobs. Forecast: doubtful.

  19. Tom R says:

    Sounds like a great way for a handful of egomaniac execs to burn through a ton of investor’s cash before the whole operation flames out in a smoldering heap after a couple of curious prototypes are shown to the press.

    BTW, anyone know where one can find a Motus to purchase?

    • Motowarrior says:

      They are active in signing up dealers now. It will be slow going for a while, but I hope they do well.

      I saw a Motus in Jacksonville being fitted for a seat at Sargent Cycle products. Even though it was a preproduction model, it was quite impressive. Much more compact than it appears in photos, and nicely put together. I hope they are able to bring costs down as they make more bikes, and perhaps compete with BMW in the sport touring category. It would be nice to have a successful American bike that wasn’t a cruiser.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “I hope they are able to bring costs down as they make more bikes”

        let’s be clear. laymen could stumble upon your comment and then go forward spreading misinformation (as they are want to do). MAKING more bikes doesn’t bring costs down. consumers PURCHASING more bikes brings costs down. like current flow in an electrical circuit, WE are part of the loop.

  20. BlackCayman says:

    I still want a Motus MST-R – 185 HP! — But $37,000 is a lot of money

  21. Yoyodyne says:

    Considering that the press release is an unmitigated pile of steaming bu!!shit, it’s very likely that the actual motorcycle will be similarly unimpressive. Just another desperate grab for a piece of the pie in the ultra-rich market demographic…what a yawn.

  22. takehikes says:

    trading on past glories. I notice they talk about the “black and gold” when any fan knows it was John Player Specials sponsorship that brought the black and gold to Lotus.
    Well it will be interesting to see but once the word premium pops up I’m out of the market.

  23. jim says:

    Well, it could be the next Bimota, or it could be the next Hesketh.

  24. Jack says:

    Seriously? Safety is an important parameter? With a 200 horsepower engine in a bike designed by a “Hollywood film industry” designer?

  25. Jeremy in TX says:

    I would be surprised if they make it happen. We already have several 200hp, state-of-the-art bikes available, and those are from established manufacturers with pretty good dealership networks. A low-volume, clean sheet design, chassis and engine with premium hard parts that measures up to the current benchmarks (assuming it even will measure up to the benchmarks) will be very expensive indeed.

    Triumph did it right by leveraging the brand name and making reliable, unique, appealing motorcycles with price tags within reach of most buyers. Ducati came back from the brink on the back of the Monster line – also a bike for the masses relatively speaking.

    I think extreme performance is just too cheap in the motorcycle industry for super-premium brands to really differentiate themselves to a degree necessary for survival.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “A low-volume, clean sheet design, chassis and engine with premium hard parts that measures up to the current benchmarks (assuming it even will measure up to the benchmarks) will be very expensive indeed.”

      see Jeremy in texas get’s it. now would you be so kind as to communicate your pearls of wisdom to Suzuki’s grand prix effort…? ’cause they’re not hearing me.

    • KevinJ says:

      Jeremy hit the nail on the head. What can this new bike offer that isn’t already available from other manufacturers other than exclusivity? Nada.

  26. ABQ says:

    I always viewed motorcycling as something for the common man. Super premium brands defeat that purpose. Pass the Grey Poupon.

  27. Nick says:

    As you said, sounds interesting, sounds expensive, but leaves anyone to guess just what’s planned for the long haul. Will be interesting to watch as it unfolds.