Lotus – what now?

With maverick CEO Dany Bahar ousted, what now for Lotus?

By Tim Kendall | 29th July 2012

Lots of trouble, undeniably serious. Excuse the bastardised cliché, but even glass half full types will have been watching the happenings in Hethel over the last few months through their hands from behind the sofa. With gritted teeth.

With this week’s news that Lotus have submitted a far more realistic business plan to Proton’s new owners and its ultimate parent company DRB-Hicom, many will surely harbour a strong desire to find sacked former CEO Dany Bahar and say ‘I told you so’.

Dany Bahar Lotus CEO

With Bahar ousted, does Lotus have a brighter future?

When his erratic and profligate stewardship of Lotus careered off the road, was anyone surprised? Sad for the Norfolk car builder, worried for its workforce – sure. But surprised? No.

That’s because anyone with a grasp of the economics involved in designing, developing and building one new car, let alone five clean-sheet sports cars, would have regarded Bahar’s five year plan as wildly ambitious. And wild ambition doesn’t dovetail too well with a world wallowing in austerity. Or a company which hasn’t turned a profit in a very long time and more than anything needs credible, core products to kick start things. Not a long drawn out, cash-sapping sojourn into markets and niches they’ll never tap.

And the gargantuan hiring spree of top notch car industry bods, whilst endowing Lotus with some impressive business cards, including AMG’s Wolf Zimmerman, ex-Ferrari designer Donato Coco, GM’s Bob Lutz and lightness legend Gordon Murray, can’t have been anything other than Bloody Expensive.

Still, the right tools for the job are important, especially with the herculean task that comes with launching five new sports cars complete with in-house engines and gearboxes. But then why involve the rapper Swizz Beatz? And why the tie-up with the ultimate purveyors of automotive bilge, Mansory? Because, it seems Bahar, a marketing man at heart, unfortunately had all the gear, but in the final analysis, no idea.

New Lotus Eterne

The stillborn Lotus Eterne. No. No. Thrice no.

Where did it go wrong then? Right at the beginning. Someone should have had a word in Bahar’s ear in Paris when he announced the outlandish five car plan in 2010. That was the point at which he needed to focus on spending Proton’s £770 million budget for the ailing carmaker a bit more carefully.

Forget the Aston Rapide rival, the city car and most of the other ones beginning with E. Concentrate on building two new cars – a replacement for the brilliant but ageing Elise, and a proper stab at a new Esprit supercar – the kind of effort that would give Ferrari and McLaren sleepless nights.

Lotus Esprit 2014

Build the new Esprit sharpish please Lotus

Unfortunately, Bahar seems to have been more pre-occupied with courting an entourage of celebrities. Vacuous endorsements from Mickey Rourke and Naomi Campbell at the outset of Bahar’s ill-fated journey were a worrying portent that the good ship Lotus had lost its rudder and someone should wrestle the captain from the helm before it was too late.

What Lotus needs now is brilliance with a two or three car model range to bring the company back to health – see Porsche circa 1997, reference Boxster/996.

With the refreshed Exige and Evora, the signs are that Lotus is still a company brimming with engineering magic and an innate understanding of how to build an excellent sports car. What’s needed now is the guiding hand of a CEO who doesn’t have his head in the clouds. And a world-beating Esprit, soon.

By Tim Kendall
29th July 2012

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