Group Lotus, the Norfolk-based sports car and technology group, believes a decision by its Malaysian parent company, Proton, to end partnership negotiations with Volkswagen and GM will do no harm to its ongoing recovery.“The decision shouldn’t affect us at all,” says Lotus CEO Mike Kimberley. The new boss has carried out a financial restructuring of the company soon after his arrival last year, and has since launched a five-year strategic business plan and revised two forthcoming models, the mid-sized Eagle (2008) and the new Esprit (2009). “Proton and its chairman have always been great supporters of Lotus,” says Kimberley. ”Their support remains a key factor in our recovery,” says Kimberley. The Hethel head-count recently hit 1400 (from a low-point of 900) in preparation for the launch of Eagle late next year.
A bad day for Proton
VW and GM both had their eye on Proton’s high-tech but underutilised manufacturing plants, believed capable of building around a million cars a year. Proton, which notched its first loss for several decades in 2006, is widely believed to need a foreign partner to improve its component supply and engineering know-how. The company, whose largest shareholder is Kazanah Nasional, Malaysia’s state investment company, will continue to operate without a big automotive partner “for the time being”. However, today in Kuala Lumpur, Proton’s share price fell a record 19 per cent.Meanwhile, Proton has jointly announced plans, with partners in Turkey and Iran, to launch a so-called Islamic car, aimed at boosting export sales by at least 100,000 units the present 20,000. The car will sell in nearby markets like Iran, Turkey, Bangladesh and Brunei.