The ex-Lotus boss’s latest venture takes the cosmetic modification of high-end cars to a super-luxurious extreme
Steve Cropley Autocar
5 July 2015

Dany Bahar was always heading for a big comeback. 

The former Lotus CEO, best known for the five-model recovery plan that blew up a storm of controversy when launched in 2010, may have departed Hethel in a flurry of legal recriminations, but it was always clear he had too many friends and too much influence in the unfathomable world of cars for the super-rich for him merely to fade away.

Yet the size and scale of Bahar’s comeback has surprised even the man himself. Today he is founder and CEO of a two-year-old Modena-based automotive design and engineering company, Ares, named for the Greek god of war. Its core business is improving “everything you see or touch” in super-luxury cars to make them more exclusive and distinctive than the original maker’s build processes could ever allow.

Most projects go to Middle Eastern or Asian clients, and the company has already delivered 120 of them.

The big secret, says Bahar, is to cast the owner as the car’s creator, while giving him or her access to top-class designers to translate wishes into reality. Prices are high but not quite stratospheric, he says. A full-on redesign of a Range Rover interior in wood instead of leather – a four-week job – would set you back £75,000. 

The entire recladding of an existing car in unique carbonfibre panels – an eight-month task – will likely carry a bill of £750,000. Really big jobs can go into seven figures.

Why set the business up in Modena? Because set-up costs are lower than in Germany, the original target area, and there is also a “remarkable” talent pool there that contains most of Italy’s fast-car factories.

The company has moved to bigger premises once already, and will do it again before an official opening planned for September. In the meantime, there are plans, due to reach fruition in the next couple of weeks, to open a UK Ares showroom “in the Piccadilly area”.

For a business like this, Bahar reckons you need headquarters in London, Dubai, Hong Kong and Shanghai as well as the Modenese factory. “Clients in this bracket may visit the factory once,” says Bahar, “but after that they want to go somewhere more convenient.”

The whole Ares proposition rests heavily on research Bahar and his five or six backers (several from his core team at Lotus) carried out over the year or so they took fleshing out a new project. What they discovered was a whole strand of car consumers who can afford anything they want, often buying top-end cars at a rate of a dozen or more a year.

Ares’s very first customer, who paid early for extensive mods to a Bugatti Veyron and thus helped to finance the embryonic business, buys 150 super-expensive cars a year and currently commissions Ares cars by the dozen.

“What we’ve learned,” he explains, “is that the further you go up the price scale, the less people care about what’s underneath a bonnet. People buying cars at £100,000 to £200,000 usually do care about the mechanical bits, but those who are in the £1 million-plus bracket are really only bothered about what you see, feel and touch.”

Ares’s current projects prove this point, making it clear that super-rich car consumers are also very much motivated by impatience. When we spoke, Bahar and Co were on the point of delivering a Mercedes-Benz G63 (nicknamed G-Force) with its styling completely changed by a new set of carbonfibre outer panels.

The company also has a Rolls-Royce estate project on the go for September delivery (“The owner says the factory has been making promises for 10 years”) and there’s a full-size Bentley convertible under way (“Because the owner doesn’t want to wait the two and a half years it’ll take the company to launch its own version”).

Budget simply isn’t an issue, says Bahar, apart from the fact that these are canny people who won’t wear senseless overcharging. But they can most definitely pay. “It’s the work they like, and the engagement,” says Bahar. “Match one of these people up with a professional designer whose only mission is to bring their desires to life and you can see how much they enjoy it. It’s something they can’t get anywhere else.”

Bahar cites three “enormous” advantages of this business, compared with the manufacture of a unique, low-volume car, which is what he began to contemplate when, with half a dozen close colleagues, he first eyed life after Lotus.

“We don’t have to deal with the manufacturer,” he says. “We don’t get involved with car legislation because we don’t change anything structural. We don’t have to do any brand-building because Ares isn’t a car brand. We need our good reputation, for sure, but that’s something we can build by pleasing our customers. Give these people what they’re seeking and they’re with you for good.”

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Comments
11

5 July 2015
Looks like Bahar has found his niche at last, pity he nearly destroyed Lotus beforehand.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

5 July 2015
Yup, much more in his comfort zone. He seems to be a good salesman and has the ability to access a super-rich clientele. If these people choose to fritter their money on such vanity projects and help Bahar keep the lifestyle he enjoys, then good luck to him I guess.

6 July 2015
Autocar wrote:

A full-on redesign of a Range Rover interior in wood instead of leather – a four-week job – would set you back £75,000

What, like church pews?


5 July 2015
Hardly an original idea, 'tuning, styling and interior upgrades' is hardly an original idea. Then there is the gushing of wonderment and joy from our Steve who has clearly been bought one or two posh lunches by Dany boy.

Cringeworthy piece. I have a lot of respect for Steve Cropley but this is a truly awful bit of mates in editorial places.

5 July 2015
Cheltenhamshire wrote:

Hardly an original idea, 'tuning, styling and interior upgrades' is hardly an original idea. Then there is the gushing of wonderment and joy from our Steve who has clearly been bought one or two posh lunches by Dany boy.

Cringeworthy piece. I have a lot of respect for Steve Cropley but this is a truly awful bit of mates in editorial places.

Steve has form here. I remember the gushing a few years back over Gordon Murray's ridiculous city cars (T25/T27) and iStream.

 

6 July 2015
@Leslie Brook - FYI TVR will be using the iStream process for their forthcoming sports car. Call that 'gushing'.

The circumstances around Bahar's departure from Lotus are still unclear, but at least he had a plan - which was then scuppered by the new owners. I still believe the new Esprit would have been a success.

6 July 2015
I love fast and expensive cars as much as anyone but there's something wrong in a world that has so much poverty and so many sickeningly rich people. I think back to the 70's where the world's supercar makers each made a few cars a week. Now most make thousands a year and half the world goes to bed hungry at night. This is just wrong.

6 July 2015
Agree jmd67 We are living in a crazy world where a few individuals make more profit from their wealth than some countries GDP. While no doubt I would find many of these upgrades very pleasing to look at and some others OTT, I find it disturbing that the super rich never have enough while the majority are like slaves. How long will this inequity continue? Oil it's both a curse & a blessing to a lot of middle east countries, they have fantastic wealth but not the development skills of much poorer nations. Too much money in too few hands influencing the levers of power and legislating in their favour hence TPP.

 Offence can only be taken not given- so give it back!

6 July 2015
So basically he's taken the Mansory business model and transplanted it to Modena.

6 July 2015
KiwiRob wrote:

So basically he's taken the Mansory business model and transplanted it to Modena.

Indeed, hardly original and yet Steve think's it is 'inspired'.

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