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6 October 2003

Changing the Rules of Niche Vehicle Development

Lotus Engineering, the leading automotive engineering consultancy, today announced details of its remarkable Versatile Vehicle Architecture technology in a technical paper presented at the Aachen Colloquium for Automobile and Engine Technology.

Versatile Vehicle Architecture (VVA) exploits Lotus Engineering’s expertise in steel, aluminium and composite body engineering, joining techniques, and vehicle systems integration. This innovative technology offers a fast-to-market, cost-effective approach to differentiated niche products by spreading the development, investment and bill of materials burden across a range of niche vehicle variants.

OEMs seeking to gain competitive advantage through exciting niche vehicles either design a new platform or share one already available. Engineering a bespoke low-volume platform is an expensive, time-consuming solution, while sharing a mainstream steel chassis reduces time and costs, but results in compromises in performance and design. Lotus VVA has been developed to fill the gap in the investment-volume curve to exploit the benefits of producing at medium volumes but for niche markets with their inherent favourable returns.

The philosophy is based on the commonality and adaptability of key elements of the vehicle structure and platform systems across a ‘family’ of niche vehicle variants, with a combined annual production rate in the region of 50,000 units. Structural components common to each family member are arranged in different configurations in each variant around ingenious adaptable corner nodes. In parallel to this structural versatility, platform systems such as suspension and steering components are designed for application across the range.

"VVA couples Lotus Engineering’s unrivalled experience in niche vehicle solutions with our extensive research into advanced materials and processes," explains Nick Sampson, programme director. "The result is a high value-added service which dramatically improves the business case economics of niche vehicle development for our clients."

Lotus Engineering, having announced the award of the £35m VVA contract in August 2002, plans to deliver prototypes of the first radical niche variant to the client in mid-2004.