Road cars

It is no secret that the Goodwood Moving Motor Show did not go according to plan. Lord March’s latest audacious effort to widen further still the appeal of the Festival of Speed while simultaneously solving the ancient problem of how to stage a successful British motor show was nearly derailed by a problem no one could have predicted. A Honda dealer fainted at the wheel of a Civic and drove through the Jaguar stand causing thankfully minor injuries to three bystanders (and an E-type prototype).

But it restarted soon after and ran without mishap for the rest of the day, and if the punters I spoke to provided an accurate guide, it had proven a worthwhile event. As signifi cant, the broad view of the car manufacturers I called was that it had been a success despite some teething troubles, and that they would be back.

For me, however, the real value extended far beyond the motor show element. What I really appreciated was the opportunity to roam around the Festival of Speed unencumbered by the crowds that cram into Goodwood over the wildly popular weekend. True, there were no cars racing up the hill, but that is only one component of the event’s draw: if what you really want to do is wander around the Festival getting closer to the world’s most fabulous cars than is possible anywhere else on earth, then you could do so with a freedom and ease on the Thursday that would be simply impossible on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

Will the Moving Motor Show continue? I have no doubt. Yes, some elements will need to be modified to allow a greater separation between moving cars and pedestrians, but I think the concept of having cars that can be seen and heard moving in a setting like Goodwood with all the infrastructure of the Festival of Speed already in place too enticing not to repeat.

There are some worrying noises emerging from Lotus. It seems its Malaysian owners are no longer content with the company’s positioning and are to transform radically the business over the next few years to turn Lotus into a British answer to Porsche and Ferrari. This is deeply troubling.

The most obvious concern is Lotus’s ability to build cars to compete credibly with the most established and well-funded players in the supercar business. I don’t doubt its stylists could shape a car pretty enough to compete, nor that an engine could be found to provide the right power. And I’m certain its chassis gurus could make the result handle every bit as well, if not better, than the best products of its newly-acquired rivals. What scares me is everything else.

Even Lotus’s recent step in this direction with the Evora has been fraught, because for all its many and manifest strengths there is so much about the car that is wrong, from its Toyota Camry gearbox to its offset driving position, high sills, poor instruments, useless navigation system and so on. And now it is planning a giant leap.

It is fine to offer back-to-basics charm when you’re selling a Lotus Elise for less than £30,000, but when you’re talking over £50,000 – which is the least you’ll pay for an Evora once you’ve added some essential options – the customer expects a complete and rounded car. But now, and despite the fact the Evora has not sold well, it seems Lotus is planning to sell cars for twice even this amount.

But let us say Lotus can build a car to rival a Ferrari 458 in all regards, it remains to be seen how many people will want to buy it. Precedent is not on Lotus’s side: in the past when Lotus has done what it knows best and built lightweight, simple, technologically advanced and reasonably affordable sports cars, it has done well. When it has forgotten the values upon which Colin Chapman founded the marque and gone chasing margins instead, it has met with rather less success.

I struggle a little to see customers choosing to spend close to £100,000 on a Lotus, and you need only to look at TVR and Noble to know what happens when low-volume British sports car manufacturers stray too far from their customers’ comfort zones.

I’m not saying it can’t work, just that I cannot see how it can. Then again, I understand this to be a fi ve-year programme in which time maybe Lotus will be winning F1 World Championships and Indy 500s again, and the world will be a very different place. Let us at least hope so.

Less than a year into the job, it has been announced that Michael Macht is to be replaced at the helm of Porsche. Macht is a Porsche man through and through with 20 years’ service in Stuttgart, yet his new job is to be in charge of Volkswagen’s factories around the world. Into his shoes steps Matthias Muller, a product planner from, you guessed it, VW.

What conclusions can be drawn from this? None yet, but if you were a conspiracy theorist who did not buy at all the line that Porsche would be allowed to remain fi ercely independent within VW, it would be hard to think of a gun more smoking than this.