In simple terms this is a laser-based distance controller. If you set an optimum required distance between your car and the one in front, it automatically keeps you apart at speeds above 20mph. The system works well and proved useful on the journey to Norfolk, where I was hindered by tractors and trailers for mile after mile.
At Lotus it was interesting to see that it is not quite the cottage industry that, for some, the name still conjures up. It is a highly developed facility, employing about 1,500 people. Although it is modern and efficient, the company is still proud to boast that its cars are built by craftsmen.
Interesting too, as well as producing 50 to 60 Elises per week, the factory turns out a similar number of Vauxhall VX220 Turbos.
It is a sign of the times that, in common with every other manufacturer, Lotus is very much driven by changing customer demands. Not only does it have to produce a good new car, but one that is reliable and sought after on the used market as well. To achieve this the company is now fitting, as standard, items that were unheard of on a Lotus a very short time ago. The 2004 model year Elise now boasts luxuries such as central locking, electric windows and even sun visors.
But the really significant fact is that about 90% of buyers are going for the S model, which has plenty of spec as standard. There is even a big take-up on the £1,295 option of air conditioning. All these things may add to the weight but, if customers demand creature comforts, then a manufacturer has to listen.
If the purists are replaced by more 'ordinary' drivers, to ignore their requirements would be commercial suicide. But where Lotus will really benefit is on the used car market because the introduction of plenty of spec will generate more used buyer interest.
The fact the Lotus is looking to the future and creating a good used car, with all the bits and pieces the secondhand buyer now demands, demonstrates that the company is listening.
Lotus might seem an unlikely source of inspiration for the fleet industry but its strategy of loading the right spec on to its cars is yet another reminder of the importance of getting it right in the new market to ensure success in the used arena.'