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[Herald Interview] Lotus bets big on Korea’s luxury car market

Korea likely to outpace Japan in sales next year, becoming biggest market for UK luxury carmaker in Asia outside China

Nov. 16, 2023 - 15:06 By Byun Hye-jin
Dan Balmer, regional director for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at Group Lotus (Lotus Cars Korea)

Group Lotus, the British luxury carmaker, on Thursday unveiled its first flagship store in the posh district of Gangnam in southern Seoul, renewing its commitment to South Korea, a market it left a decade ago after years of lukewarm sales.

With its “second debut” in the Korean market, Lotus’ Asian chief showed high expectations about its growth here.

“Next year, Korea will become the biggest market for us in Asia outside of mainland China and will overtake Japan, which currently takes up the largest portion in the region,” said Dan Balmer, regional director for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at Group Lotus, during an interview with The Korea Herald.

Balmer stressed that the company will expand its sales network – including showrooms and dealerships -- to Busan, the largest port city in the southeast, once it builds up stable sales and a customer base in Seoul. Along with the showroom in Gangnam, it plans to open an after-service center in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province.

The British carmaker, a subsidiary under the Chinese Geely Motors, relaunched in Korea in May this year after partnering up with Korea-based automotive retailer Kolon Mobility Group. It previously set out its business here in 2007 but shut down in 2013 due to a sales slump.

Recognizing the importance of penetrating the competitive Korean market, Balmer was visiting Seoul to attend the official launch event of two of its flagship car models: the Emira sports car and the all-electric sport utility vehicle Eletre.

Eletre, Lotus’ first SUV and electric vehicle, is parked within the company’s showroom in Gangnam, Seoul on Thursday. (Lotus Cars Korea)

The 75-year-old Lotus brand will resonate well with brand-savvy Korean customers, who have a lot of knowledge about car brands’ heritage and look for high levels of performance and practicality as well as strong design statements, according to Balmer.

Lotus cars, even before the official relaunch in Korea, were well-received among car enthusiasts here. As of October, it was reported that pre-orders for the Emira and Eletre came to over 430 units.

The Emira, the last internal combustion engine sports car of Lotus, in particular, has garnered traction among customers from the upper luxury segments who could have chosen Ferrari or Porsche, Balmer said. The car’s attractiveness comes from its more reasonable price range than the ultra-premium rival cars, along with its high performance and exceptional driving experience.

The same goes for the Eletre, the first SUV and electric vehicle launched by Lotus. It boasts faster zero to 100 kilometers per hour acceleration than Ferrari’s Purosangue and Lamborghini’s Urus Performante SUVs. Top trim model, the Eletre R can accelerate from zero to 100 kilometers per hour in 2.95 seconds.

Powered by the company’s EV architecture called the EPA platform, the car is installed with CATL’s 112-kilowatt-hour nickel, manganese and cobalt (NCM) battery that can charge from 10 to 80 percent in 20 minutes.

Highlighting the company’s bases worldwide in the UK, Germany and China, Balmer said, “The company is open to working with Korean battery companies (like LG Energy Solution, Samsung SDI and SK On,) as part of our plan to further accelerate global expansion.”

Starting with the Eletre, Lotus is upping the ante to make the transition from a high-performance sports car brand to a premium EV maker. It plans to launch all-electric cars from 2028 without adopting any hybrid engines that could add extra loads to Lotus cars, known for their lightweight features.