Matt Windle is the Managing Director at Group Lotus in the UK. He has had a colourful career in the auto world starting out at Daewoo working in design. He continued working in design at NedCar before landing a job with Lotus Engineering.
After nearly seven years with Lotus Matt went on to work as the Principal Engineer for Tesla Motors. Following this, he worked in several jobs including being the Chief Engineer at Caterham Technology and at Zenos Cars Limited where he was Head of Engineering before becoming Operations Director.
In 2017 everything came full circle as Matt returned to Lotus to work as a Chief Engineer. Since then he has moved up the ranks to his current position as Managing Director.
We caught up with Matt to talk about what’s going on at Lotus now and what we can expect for its all-electric future.
EDs: Could you tell us about your recently announced collaboration with Britishvolt and what you plan to do together?
We’ve started an MOU to work together and we’re going to investigate cell chemistries and potential module manufacturing in the future. We’re going to kick this off by hopefully co-producing a concept car.
It takes our Lightweight Electric Vehicle Architecture (LEVA) architecture, which we announced last year and we’re going to use for upcoming cars, and takes that a step forward for us to reality but it could be a proof of concept for Britishvolt too.
EDs: Do you think collaborations are the way forward and do you have any more in the pipeline?
Yes. It’s public knowledge that we’ve signed an MoU with Alpine as well. We’re talking to several OEMs, not just Alpine. We have also been talking to several OEMs about platform sharing and technology sharing.
When we made the decision back in 2017 to go full battery electric, it felt like a bit of an edgy decision then, but now just five years later, it’s not. It’s the way most people are going.
The decision we made has put us a bit ahead of the game but we also made it with Lotus Engineering in mind. This would give us the proposition that we could talk to other people about and maybe exploit the platform through our Lotus Engineering arm. Whilst nothing signed yet, it’s looking positive for those conversations.
EDs: Where do you see the biggest developments happening in the emobility space in the coming years?
The biggest development is going to be outlawing internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. It’s going to be legislation. I think there are still issues with the infrastructure catching up but the independent data on the growth of EV markets is absolutely bonkers.
There’s some IHS data that I was quoting when we were presenting Type 132 a couple of weeks ago and the market for battery electric vehicles in 2020 was 2.6 million. By 2030, they’re predicting that be over 33 million. That’s more than 10 times growth.
History shows us with mobile phones and similar technology, that they get cheaper, the technology gets better and batteries get smaller. This plays right into our hands of where we want to be with lightweight vehicles – light, efficient, high performance and premium performance. That growth in technology and minimising battery sizes to get the same output is great.
EDs: You worked at Lotus before moving to Tesla. How did you end up back at Lotus again?
I came to Lotus in ’98 and I only planned to come here for six months but met my wife here and ended up staying longer. One of my colleagues at Lotus was involved in helping Tesla find a platform for their Roadster and then the opportunity came up for me to work for them, so I joined Tesla in 2005.
Tesla was only two years old then and it was good to be involved with. I learned a great deal from being involved in a startup with quick decision making and always focusing on moving forward on all fronts. This is a management style I’ve got now.
After nearly seven years at Tesla, I moved to work for Caterham for a couple of years and then with a small startup called Zenos, which unfortunately didn’t have enough cash to survive. I’ve got a wide experience from working with bigger companies but also working with agile startups.
When I realised that Lotus was going to be bought by Geely in 2017, I did my research on them as a company and felt like it would suit me to be working in what was effectively a startup.
My background’s body engineering, so I came back into body engineering but since then I’ve been promoted up through the business and now have responsibility for delivering the strategy.
EDs: How important is cutting edge technology in high-end niche cars like Lotus?
Technology and innovation are incredibly important to us. When we were laying out the strategy in 2017, our aim was to not only be back level with the game but ahead of the game in some areas.
That’s why we decided to go for electric propulsion. It felt like a bit of an edgy decision back then but we could see that it would give us a bit of an opportunity to demonstrate our skills through innovation.
That’s why we went with Evija as the first car. It’s an incredible car. It’s going to be the most powerful production car out there and going to do some amazing things. It’s also given us a lot of learning around battery technology and the systems on what is a smaller run of cars. It’s all learning.
We are also developing all of our facilities. We’ve got the site in Wellesbourne, which we’re doing with Warwick Manufacturing Group, which is basically our EV hub.
We’re putting battery testing facilities in there, boxcars that are high voltage, all of those things. As a business, we’re moving forward rapidly to be prepared for the EV future that’s coming.
EDs: Do you think the niche market helps the overall transition to electric vehicles?
I think poster cars are really important and with Evija we wanted a poster car and we always called it a brand halo. It had to be the halo as far as performance, the environment, technology and innovation were concerned. You’ve also got the strongest and safest body shell that you can get, which is exactly what you want in a car that’s got 2000 brake horsepower.
We don’t ever do anything at Lotus just for the reason of doing it. Everything we do whether it’s an innovation, a technology, driver position, switches or whatever, is there for a reason. It’s either to enhance performance, help the customer, for safety or similar.
EDs: Without the need for an engine do you think the next generation of electric cars are going to look radically different?
I don’t think so because consumers don’t like radical. I think it’s important that electric cars are not these funky things that people stare at because you want them to replace their ICE vehicles.
Not having an engine does give you a lot of freedom. Take Type 132, which I know you haven’t seen, but when that comes out the occupant space is incredible. It’s an exciting car. Lotus won’t produce anything radically different looking, simplistic beauty is what we want from our products. We want a timeless design.
Rather than the car becoming more radical looking, the more interesting question is; what’s the future of personal transport? Will there be fewer cars? As a car manufacturer, we need to be ahead of the game on this.
EDs: OEMs just swapping from an ICE car to an electric car doesn’t solve many of the problems associated with cars. Do we need to a completely new transport model?
I think it does need a change but it always comes down to convenience. I think it’s generational. Our generation love driving and owning cars and see it as a status thing.
I think maybe generations in the future won’t be so fussed about it because they’re so used to on-demand services. I’ve never used Uber to buy food but many do. I think it’s all driven by consumer demand at the end of the day.
EDs: What upcoming cars do you have coming out?
We just bought Emira out which is our last mainstream internal combustion car. We’ve now got a product plan for four more cars to follow, they’ll all be EVs. I think it’s a strong strategy for us and very exciting time. We are committed to the journey and we definitely see EVs as the future for us.
The new EVs will all be premium performance vehicles. The content and quality of them is fantastic. They’re not all going to be at the extreme of Evija but are looking to up production. We built 1,500 cars last year and by 2028 we want to be at 100,000 cars.
They won’t be too radical looking because we want people to get out of their ICE vehicles and into EVs, which increases our segment share. We think that a slice of the cake is there to be won. Lotus is committed, we’ve designed our own platforms and we’re on the journey.
EDs: Will the new electric vehicles be distinctively Lotus?
They’re going to be distinctively Lotus. They’ll have those elements that are important to us, such as being lightweight, aerodynamic, porosity as we call it, driving dynamics and driver interaction with the vehicle. All of those things that are our DNA fit perfectly with electric vehicles.
If you reduce drag with aerodynamics or make it as light as possible, it’s a virtual circle. Then can lighten the battery pack so then your vehicle gets lighter and range and efficiency improve. We feel that it fits really well with what are our core principles around car design.