the year we forgot to make contact


2010 is a year charged with meaning in the sci-fi universe. In the fictional world created by acclaimed author Arthur Clarke, 2010 is the year that America makes contact with alien life on Europa.

For the uninitiated, Europa is one of the dozens of moons orbiting the planet Jupiter.

While Jupiter's moons may seem inhospitable to life at first glance, NASA scientists believe that Europa might be the most significant source of liquid water in the solar system, with massive sub-surface seas capable of covering every inch of Earth's moon under many thousands of feet of water - water that is heated by the churning forces of Jupiter's massive gravity acting on Europa's metallic core.

In short: Europa seems ideally suited to support what we think of as life ... sort of like the short-lived Lotus sportscar of the same name.


That's a long way to go to get to an obscure Lotus model that never hit US shores, I'll grant you, but you can't deny the linguistic symmetries here.

For the uninitiated, Europa is one of the dozens of variants of Lotus' diminutive Elise.

Lotus' Elise requires no introduction to the automotive enthusiast. It is a petite, nimble little car that exemplifies Lotus' corporate obsession with lightweight construction. The Elise is small, it is cramped, it is stiff, it is loud, and it is wonderful ... if you're in to that sort of thing. Most people aren't.

Cue the Lotus Europa, which was always intended as a bigger, roomier, softer, quieter, and wonderfuler version of Lotus' demanding Elise, marketed to people as a Lotus that could be driven to work, to school, to market, to dinner, and back home.

In short: Europa seems ideally suited to support what we think of as life ... sort of like the Jovian moon of the same name.


2010, then, stands out as a year that is doubly disappointing for me, personally. On the one hand, America seems no closer to sending humans into the Jovian system than it was twenty years ago. On the other, Lotus announced that it would be discontinuing the Europa line in all markets.

I admit that I haven't always been kind to the Europa (neither has Chrysler), but I will be very honest and also admit the Europa is more appealing than the sexy, slinky, but ultimately derivative Evora that is replacing it. It was a different animal, conceived when Lotus' designers didn't have more than a few nickels to rub together and had to cobble together a GT contender out of - quite literally - a bit of clay and whatever they could scrounge up from Proton's Malaysian parts bin.

Lotus were more romantic then. Lotus were the underdogs, and the Europa GT was the product of underdogs who aimed high to challenge the market's overdogs (?) like Chevy's Corvette and Porsche's 911. The Evora challenges the same Corvettes and Porsches that the Europa did, of course, but it's a more polished, sterile sort of thing. Where the Europa was chunky, the Evora is slick, and in the days since the Europa was announced GM has gone bankrupt, Porsche has been bought by Volkswagen, and Lotus? Lotus has been riding high, no longer an underdog at all ...

... which leaves me feeling an all-too familiar kind of disappointment.

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