Think back a decade to the Paris Motor Show of 2010. The big story there has become a total joke as the then-Dany Bahar run and Proton-owned Lotus delivered six new concepts to the show and then never followed through on any of them. “Wait,” you say, “Lotus only showed five concepts at Paris that year; Elise, Elite, Elan, Esprit, and the Eterne sedan.” You know your Lotus press releases, and that’s exactly what Lotus would have you believe if you look at their press materials of the day. But there was another.
Wherefore art thou Ethos?
At the time Lotus was owned by Malaysian brand Proton, which specializes in compacts and city cars popular all over the Asian continent. Proton wanted to make an international splash and build a compact car for the new decade, focusing on a highly efficient parallel plug-in hybrid city car. The car was built in partnership with Lotus Engineering, which is technically a different company from Lotus Cars. In order to go forward with Bahar’s plan for Lotus in 2010, Proton volun-told the famous British marque that it would play ball and sell its own version of the city car.
The Proton EMAS was designed by Pininfarina and engineered by Lotus, and built on a modified Toyota iQ platform, so it had to be pretty great, right? Or at least passable. The Malaysians pulled out all the stops to make this the future of electric propulsion. The Lotus version, called the Ethos, was based on the same platform, but appears in photos and renders to be slightly longer with a larger cargo area behind the two-seat passenger compartment.
The EMAS and thus the Ethos were powered by a compact electric motor which could propel the 3,000 pound city car from 0-60 in just 9 seconds and achieve a top speed of 105 miles per hour. Plenty for most drivers, honestly. 72 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque is decidedly sufficient.
A small 14.8 kWh lithium battery array allowed the car to go 37 miles on a full charge without any gasoline. Lotus Engineering developed a compact 1.2-liter 3-cylinder flex-fuel engine to act as a range extending generator. The engine was designed to operate most efficiently at either 1,500 rpm or 3,500 rpm, depending on the car’s charging needs. Maximum range with a full tank of fuel was 350 miles, which is also pretty great.
Amid all the hoopla of the Paris show, the Ethos was lost in the fog. In all honesty, it was the most production-ready of the six cars shown. Dispatches from people who were there when the covers were taken off (by the likes of Stephen Baldwin, Mickey Rourke, Queen guitarist Brian May, and Naomi Campbell), most of the Lotus lineup was little farther than the concept stage, as Car and Driver even said the Eterne sedan looked like it was made out of foam.
Here was a compact car built on an existing chassis with existing tech. It probably wouldn’t have been cheap, figure around $35,000 in 2014, but compare it to something like Chevrolet’s Volt and it could have given the compact hybrid segment the cachet brand that it desperately needed. Would it have been an international superhit? Unlikely, but if Aston Martin could sell the Toyota iQ-based Cygnet, then surely Lotus could have pulled off the same, but with advanced drivetrain tech for the time.
Hell, I’d drive one of these today. Lotus had a really cool thing on its hands, but it was squandered. Alas, poor Ethos, for I knew him.