Jean-Marc Gales has abruptly left his position as CEO of Group Lotus plc, the Norfolk-based sports car maker and technology consultancy acquired last year by China's Geely group, which also owns Volvo, Lynk&Co, Proton and LEVC.
Gales told Autocar that he was leaving for "personal reasons" and that it was "time to move on". He departs his job today and described it as "a very emotional day", adding: "Lotus has been in my heart for 50 years."
Joining Lotus in 2014 with the task of leading it out of a long, loss-making era, Gales was previously a member of the managing board of PSA Group. His replacement at Lotus is Qingfeng Feng, who joined the company's board at the time of the Geely acquisition.
On Feng, Gales said: “He is a good guy and a good choice. He can unlock the synergies which exist between Volvo, Lynk&Co, Polestar and Lotus.”
Gales will head up the Essex-based classic car dealer and restorer JD Classics, which was recently in the news for its dispute with a customer over alleged 'fixed' classic car prices.
He described JD Classics as the biggest company in its field in Europe, if not the world, with "huge potential for global expansion".
He also stays on at Lotus as chief strategic advisor to its chairman, Daniel Donghui Li.
During his four years leading Lotus, Gales has had considerable success, increasing sales by a third of the three-tier sports car range to around 1600 units a year by continual improvements and upgrades, as well as posting modest operating profits after many years of losses. Gales added that 2017 was the first year ever that Lotus made a profit.
He said: "I was asked in 2013 to turn the company around — I believe that our team has achieved that. When I arrived, it was necessary to reduce the headcount by 350 to 800. Since then, we’ve hired 200 people, bring headcount back up to 1000, to prepare for the next waves of sports cars."
Gales has also laid plans for a more expensive model, a so-called 'new Elise', and pushed ahead with plans from the Proton era for an Asian-built sports SUV, evidently in anticipation of promised new investment by Geely.
When Geely announced that it had acquired a majority stake in Lotus in September last year, the group revealed that a large part of the deal’s appeal was the chance to unlock the potential of the cash-strapped sports car maker with well-financed new models and facilities.
Lotus chairman Donghui Li said: “Jean-Marc has stabilised and turned Lotus to profitability for the first time in the iconic brands history with new industry-leading products and unique business models since joining the company in 2014.
“Lotus is poised for the next phase of growth under Feng Qingfeng’s leadership, where its expertise in lightweight materials and sport cars engineering will form part of the wider expansion of Geely's automotive portfolio.”
Qingfeng Feng added: “I am honoured to have been appointed to lead this iconic British sports car group. With Geely’s global synergies and total support I am confident that Lotus has an exciting opportunity to achieve its full potential as a luxury sports brand, based around its engineering legacy and its future product pipeline.”
Christopher Fielding of Charme Capital Partners, which owns JD Classics, said on Gales' appointment as CEO: "With Jean-Marc at the helm, he and his leadership team will be able to deliver our shared vision for this business as the full-service and truly global destination for classic car collectors and enthusiasts."