Lotus to Race Exige R-GT in April, Sell Exige S to U.S. in Summer
Yes, we're getting the Exige back -- as a track-only model.
The R-GT, a studded and fog-lamped version of the road-going Exige S, is bound to dirty its traditional factory gold and black livery in a hurry. It's down on power due to FIA regulations -- 302 horsepower versus the road car's 345 -- but the factory-supported Italian team United Business should have no trouble keeping the superlight, midengine cars up with the field. The Lotus team will have seven cars available, and three others will be sold to private rally teams. Pony up your DVR for April 19, the start of Italy's Rally 1000 Miglia.
A few lucky Lotus customers in the U.S. will be able to buy a track-only version of the Exige S by mid to late summer, Lotus told MSN Autos. The car -- outfitted with a full roll cage, fire extinguisher and about 200 pounds of lost weight -- will not be certified for road use.
That's a shame, because if it's anything like the China-only Evora GTE, which features a bonkers 438-horsepower V6 engine and a sequential racing gearbox, this Exige S would give a Porsche 911 GT3 a serious run for its money. Lotus, however, is used to selling insane turnkey race cars (just look at pictures of the open-cockpit 2-Eleven model a few years ago) so it's not surprising. The company says it plans to sell 15 to 25 cars per year on a per-order basis for about $95,000 a pop.
But the real reason Lotus can't take this super Exige off the track is because federal regulators banned the company last year from selling the regular Exige and open-air Elise. Those cars don't comply with our smart airbag mandate ,which requires airbags to sense the crash severity and deploy at multiple speeds. That leaves Lotus selling just one model in the U.S., the slightly bigger Evora, until at least 2015, when an updated Elise and the all-new Esprit will debut.
Until then, the closest thing U.S. owners can come to a street-legal Lotus racer is to install a factory racing kit on their Evoras. So far, the company sells only about 400 to 600 Evoras per year, but with the recent option of an automatic transmission and a possible removable hardtop version (or convertible?) to be shown at the Geneva Motor Show, Lotus is confident it can sell more.
"We've been marketing the Evora to 30 percent of the sports car market," said Kevin Smith, U.S. spokesman for Lotus Cars, referring to the number of Porsche buyers who choose manual transmissions. "We hope to see a nice little bump now in sales volume."
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