Lotus Cars has secured enough investment from its new Malaysian owner, the automotive giant DRB-Hicom, to restore full car production at its Hethel assembly plant in the next few days, and continue build-up to the launch of the first of its new-wave models, the Esprit supercar due in showrooms before the end of 2013.
A four-model, five-year plan devised by CEO Dany Bahar has had to be amended because a 60-day financial “freeze”, a routine occurrence when Malaysian firms sell major assets, has interrupted the flow of agreed development funds and introduced considerable production delays.
The resumption means that from beginning of May Lotus should be making Elises, Exiges and Evoras at a combined rate of 44 cars a week, and will be continuing to to spend on the development of the Esprit, especially its own-design V8 engine and novel automated manual transmission.
Other new models proposed beyond Esprit remain in abeyance for the time being but Lotus expects to launch at least three improved versions of existing models in time for this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, late in June, where it is this year’s “chosen” marque. The company celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, as well as the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first Lotus Elan.
Bahar vehemently denies recent assertions made during a recent parliamentary debate by local MP, Richard Bacon, that the business consultancy KPMG has been tasked with finding a buyer for the company in China.
“It’s just not true,” he says. “There is no fire sale, no selling process and no bidding. If there were, lots of strange people would be here doing inspections and due diligence, but there is nobody. Besides, I have no authority to sell the company. That’s a job for the shareholders. I am just an employee.”
He also laughs off recent reports that his contract contains incentives to sell the company. “You can look at it any way you want,” he says. “I have a fairly normal CEO’s deal that means if our plan were to be successful at some time in the future, there could be a benefit. That is nothing out of the ordinary.”
Commenting on reports that DRB-Hicom had appointed a highly-placed Proton employee to Lotus’s top management, Bahar said the move was extremely welcome. “We have been joined by the CFO of the Proton Group, someone we have known for two and a half years, and who knows our company and situation very well. He has been nominated to form a co-operative link between DRB and us, and this is very helpful because we have not had this before.”
A Lotus Youngman company, recently registered in London with himself as one of two shareholders, had been intended to extend links between Hethel and the Chinese manufacturer Youngman that already sells an “Engineered by Lotus” saloon range in China. But it is unlikely now to go ahead, he says. “Our two companies started talks with the aim of doing new products under a different logo, but it is now very unlikely that we will finalize the deal.”
The Lotus CEO keen to scotch reports that Youngman is Lotus’s Chinese importer: that function is fulfilled, he says, by Lotus China Symphony, who have so far opened three dealerships this year in China, and have plans for another 13 before the year-end.
Bahar regrets the severity of his media examination, but can understand the reason for it. He admits that DRB-Hicom has still to decide whether it will operate Lotus as is, modify its ambitious management plans or move to sell it. He is frustrated by the situation, he says, but understands that the new owner needs to concentrate on its much larger purchase, Proton, in the early weeks.
“The past four months have been really tough for us,” he says. “We were working at a pace nobody had seen at Lotus for many years, so the shut-down, as I call it, was very hard for us. It is still not good, but it is where we are. My job is to convince our shareholders — and critics — that we can build a successful business here. But I’m feeling a lot happier now than I was a month ago.”