After being a big American muscle car person, he turned. Last year he test drove a Lotus Evora 400, which is 299kW in a 1395kg plastic car made by the company founded by university engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare.
Chapman made cars for private racers and encouraged them to enter big events. Early on he had the idea of selling cars as kits to avoid sales tax. Then came factory-put-together sports cars like the Lotus Elan that went fast but were made of parts from all sort of other makers, air-conditioning that never worked, soft tops that let more rain in when they were up and lots of reliability problems.
But this was the company that saw Stirling Moss win in Monaco, won seven constructor’s championships and had more financial challenges than America’s big retailers. So, Graham, a medical specialist, fell in love and in March, Zagame Adelaide delivered his car. That’s when the problems started. The gearbox and drive train have been weird and still haven’t been fixed despite being back to Zagame three times for a total of more than five weeks.
“This included when I drove the car with the head tech from the Sydney dealer (Simply Sports Cars) in the car, with his laptop connected to the car’s computer. During this 45-minute drive the car misbehaved three times, missing power under acceleration as if the auto gearbox missed the gear change,” Graham told me.
I wrote to the Lotus media people in Sydney and to Nick Ray, the warranty general manager, and asked for their comments of Graham’s issues.
There was no response but Richard Gibbs BAppSc IT (Hons), the Lotus chief operating officer, rang me later to say the company was talking to Graham and the problems were being sorted. It appears Richard rang Graham just before he spoke to me. Later, Gibbs emailed Graham offering an “upgrade” to the next model up (GT 410) for $50,000.
“I declined and stated I wanted a refund on my car. While I thought statutory warranty meant full refund including tax I was happy to take a slight loss to get it done.”
Then Richard rang again a few days later to ask what figure Graham would take. He said he would email Lotus global HQ in the UK because “it is a warranty issue so they must be involved”.
Last Wednesday, Richard emailed Graham: “Dear Dr Fraenkel, following our discussions and emails pertaining to your car and a potential replacement of such, we have not been able to reach a mutually agreeable outcome. In our discussion post the vehicle upgrade offer you were quite clear your expectation was that we purchase the vehicle back. After further review of the circumstances of your vehicle ownership and further consultation with Group Lotus, the option of us buying back your vehicle is not one we are willing to consider.”
He went on to say concerns about the vehicle’s behaviour had been investigated and “addressed in as timely a manner as possible”. The conclusion was the “behaviour of the gearbox change from 3rd to 4th, which was the primary operational concern raised by yourself, has been explained as a ‘characteristic’ of the gearbox in question and not a fault. We also acknowledge you have raised a concern about the vehicle hesitating under acceleration, but note that neither our dealer technician or our head of warranty technician were able to replicate this issue despite numerous tests, including an extended drive period with you driving the vehicle.”
Fraenkel is not all that happy so the war of words continued:
“If the behaviour of the gear box is normal I question why five weeks was spent investigating it at Zagame Adelaide? Your technician Nick witnessed and expressed surprise at the behaviour of the gear box when changing third to fourth when leaving the Zagame dealership in Adelaide and similarly when turning left on two occasions during the test drive. Your email is completely contradicting the agreement arrived at when we last spoke indicating you were prepared to buy back the vehicle and it was a matter of negotiating the price.”
Also last Wednesday, Richard emailed me to say: “Lotus Cars Australia together with the local Lotus dealer in Adelaide have responded in as timely manner as possible to investigate and report back on the concerns raised by the customer. This has included multi day tests, the results of which show no signs of defect in the vehicle. We continue to work with the customer to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution to the concerns they have with their ownership experience.”
I also emailed UK Lotus media boss James Andrew with my deadline and was told “James is travelling at the moment. Let me look into this for you and get back to you as soon as possible.” There has been no response since.
If you are a regular reader you know how, unfortunately, this scenario is common in our car industry. There are a few good companies who work to the spirit and the letter of Australian consumer law. They are the ones I’d be dealing with, particularly if you are going to spend nearly $200k.