Group Lotus insists no decision has been taken on its future by new Proton owners DRB-Hicom.
The new owner of its Malaysian-based parent company, Proton, is strongly rumoured to be eyeing strategies that could lead the Hethel sports car company into administration as a way of freeing it from around £200 million worth of accumulated debts.
In response, Lotus has issued the following statement.
“The new Proton owners DRB-Hicom are currently in the middle of their due diligence of Group Lotus. There have been and continue to be positive discussions between Group Lotus senior management and senior management at DRB-Hicom both here in Hethel and in Malaysia.
"Despite various rumours in the media to the contrary, at no point has DRB-HICOM indicated to Group Lotus that they intend to put the company into administration. We welcome the opportunity to put that rumour - along with incorrect speculation that production has stopped , that Dany Bahar is no longer CEO and that we are no longer involved in F1- to bed.
“It’s no secret that we are going through a very difficult time at the moment due to the change in ownership but we’re doing everything we can to get through this period and come out the other side stronger than before. We’re very grateful for the continued support we receive from the people of Norfolk and all over the world.”
Malaysian-based DRB-Hicom, whose management is understood not to share Proton’s view of Lotus as a prized asset to be retained and developed. At the time of that acquisition Lotus CEO Dany Bahar told Autocar that the sports car company, which had been spending pre-arranged loan funds to create an all-new model range, would have to switch to conserving cash until a 60-day transitional phase, required under Malaysian law, had passed.
The phase ended weeks ago but Lotus is believed still to be in financial limbo and this week Bahar is “on leave”.
Rumours circulated by the well-known F1 reporter Joe Saward, among others, suggest Proton’s new owner could be shaping up to sell the assets of the sports car company to China Youngman, Lotus’s importer in China since 2006, and a company which already makes its own “Engineered by Lotus” cars for sale in the region using Proton running gear.
Youngman, which has long recognised the value of established European brands in emerging markets, was a bidder for Saab after the Swedish company’s collapse last year. Talks with other Chinese car companies are also rumoured to have taken place.
Concern over Lotus’s problems accelerated late last week when the Lotus F1 team (formerly Lotus-Renault) terminated a sponsorship agreement with Group Lotus but disclosed that it had struck a five-year deal with Lotus’s owners to continue using the famous name. This fed speculation that the F1 team’s owner, the private investment group Genii, might soon become a bidder for the car company, but its principal Gerard Lopez has so far been tight-lipped on the idea.
Financial pundits consulted by Autocar say a new owner would be reluctant to take the company on as a going concern with current debts estimated at £200 million.