Tech inside the new Lotus Eletre EV hints at self-driving ambitions

Lotus on Tuesday unveiled a “hyper” battery-electric SUV called Eletre – the first of a trio of electric vehicles that Lotus plans to launch over the next four years.

The result ? The Eletre, which means ‘come to life’, is the British brand’s first utility vehicle and a crucial part of the projected boom in demand for battery-electric luxury SUVs. The vehicle design and luxury interior features are remarkable. But it’s part of the vehicle’s technology, including a huge four lidar sensors that pop out when needed, that gives the best glimpse of what Lotus has in store for the future.

First the basics. The company, which is owned by Geely Automotive and Malaysian conglomerate Etika Automotive, offers the power, torque and a decent range of batteries.

The Eletre has an 800 volt electrical architecture, allowing fast charging without battery degradation. There are two electric motors, one on each axle, which produce a minimum of 600 horsepower and allow the SUV to go from 0 to 60 mph in under three seconds. Lotus says its battery, which will have over 100 kilowatts of storage, will allow the Eletre to travel 373 miles on a full charge under the European WLTP cycle. A 350 kilowatt charger can add 248 miles in 20 minutes.

The Eletre comes with four riding modes, including one for off-road, which adjusts steering, damper settings, powertrain and throttle pedal response. Other equipment and features can be added, such as optional 23-inch wheels, active ride height, active rear axle steering, active anti-roll bar and torque vectoring via braking.

The vehicle will go into production at Lotus’ new plant in Wuhan, China later this year.

Lotus Eletre EV

Lotus Eletre EV

Picture credits: Lotus

As Lotus’ first SUV and EV, the new model “heralds an important moment in our history and a clear signal of our continued desire to transform our business,” according to Lotus Cars Managing Director Matt Windle.

The goal, of course, is for this historic moment to turn into huge future benefits.

Lotus has not shared pricing information for the Eletre, which makes it difficult to pinpoint its competitors precisely. Depending on its price, it can compete with Tesla Model X or some of the more premium SUVs that are top sellers for luxury brands from Lamborghini to Aston Martin.

There is a growing list of potential competitors. Maserati last week announced plans to launch two all-electric SUVs: a battery-powered version of its midsize Levante SUV and an all-new compact crossover called the Grecale. Ferrari’s first SUV, the $300,000 Purosangue, is due later this year.

Notably, Lotus has “evolved” the Eletre with sensors and other hardware that can be activated via over-the-air software updates to improve or add functionality to its advanced driver assistance system.

Lidar, the light detection and ranging sensor that is widely considered the key to the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles, is beginning to be adopted by automakers like Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and now Lotus. These automakers view lidar as a necessary sensor to provide redundancy for specific and limited autonomous driving features, not full autonomy. At least not yet.

Lotus Eletre EV

Lotus Eletre EV

Picture credits: Lotus

This seems to be how Lotus intends to use lidar in the Eletre. Lotus plans to use four lidar sensors, which can be “deployed” or popped out when needed. Lotus said the lidar sensors are hidden away when not needed, “only protruding from the top of the windshield, top of the rear window and front wheel arches as needed.”

This lidar sensor system will eventually allow the vehicle to enter and exit parking spaces via a smartphone app. But comments from Maximilian Szwaj, vice president of Lotus Technology and general manager of the Lotus Tech Innovation Center in Germany, show the company is thinking beyond parking.

“ADAS technologies such as LIDAR sensors and cameras will become increasingly common on new cars as we move into a more autonomous era,” he said in a statement, adding that the car has a technology for today and also for tomorrow.

The vehicle will also include a camera-based rear-view mirror system, which current US regulations prohibit. The three different cameras are for the rear-view mirror, a second to create a 360-degree view of the car from above for easier parking, and a third used for its advanced driver assistance system. Lotus said the cameras work in tandem with the lidar system to provide “autonomous driving capability”.

Lotus does not provide further details on what “self-driving capability” means beyond its parking aspirations. Although the hardware described by Lotus is state-of-the-art, many challenges must be overcome – including a system with the computing power and software and an intuitive user experience – before a vehicle can have efficient and safe autonomous driving functions.

But four lidar sensors and three cameras suggest the company’s aspirations extend to other limited or conditional self-driving features.

Lotus Eletre EV

Lotus Eletre EV

Picture credits: Lotus

Other innovations include what the company calls porosity, the principle that air flows through the car as well as under, over and around it. for better aerodynamics, range and efficiency. Lotus leaned into porosity when designing the Evija hypercar and the Emira.

Now the Eletre has it, suggesting this design innovation is here to stay. Some of the most obvious examples of these air channels can be seen on the lower grille, front fenders and near the taillights.

The grille is particularly interesting, and includes a network of interconnected triangular petals that remain closed when the car is not moving or if it is necessary to reduce drag while driving. They open to supply air to the radiator, allowing the Eletre to “breathe” when cooling of the electric motors, battery and front brakes is needed, according to Lotus.