My friendly local car maker – Lotus – is in the money again, our money.
The regional growth fund loan, first awarded in 2011 and then held back around the time that the motor firm’s parent company, Proton, was being sold and the subsequent controversy that surrounded Dany Bahar's departure.
According to Dr Vince Cable, “Eighteen months ago there was a real worry about its viability, but the parent company have put a lot of money in. It is 300-plus jobs in the sector and it is part of the success story of the British car industry, which is massively on the up. Last year, in volume terms, we were net exporters of cars for the first time ever.”
“The money is matching their investment and secures their position in this county, which is great news for the county as a whole.
I think that the actual “Lotus position”, as it were, is being fluffed up by the rather more successful manufacturing success stories elsewhere in the country.
So far I think that Lotus has performed woefully; it's sold no more than handfuls of cars recently and struggles to be taken seriously as a first-choice sports car company. You buy one because it’ll be good to drive, but there is more to the ownership proposition than that. You also want a decent dealer network, some faith in the resale value and confidence in the fit and finish. Whereas I get Morgan and why people buy them, I can’t think of a good reason why anyone wouldn’t simply get themselves a Porsche Cayman, Mazda MX-5, Nissan 370Z or a Toyota GT86 instead of any Lotus.
Also, £10m is small fry to a car company. They can blow that on engineering a glovebox lid. To me, it is more about the principle.
If the company was doing well, they wouldn’t need a penny. If the government is going to spend our money on cars then they should be public service vehicles. For instance, a Lotus ambulance would be fun and may save more lives than a standard ambulance.
My position may be naïve, but surely a government’s job is not to interfere. Maybe they would do better to try and create the conditions for business through less regulation and lower taxes.
Now, I have offered to go and straighten Lotus out several times. The commute for me is no more than half hour and I can fit the chief executive’s job around the school run. Surprisingly, I’ve not heard back from them, which is why I’m going to start my own Norfolk-based car company. Already without doing a thing, apart from buying a pencil sharpener and some recycled paper, I’m far more profitable than Lotus ever has been.
So should I get a government grant to expand? Well that would be stupid, wouldn’t it?