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Lotus Australia on the upswing

Almost here: The supercharged Lotus Exige S is a potent, lightweight firebrand that should get the company back on some Australian radars from March.

More supply and belated Exige S launch to spearhead Lotus growth in Australia

22 Feb 2013

LOTUS Australia distributor Ateco says it remains “committed” to the brand Down Under, with plans to ramp up sales on the back of greater factory supply and the overdue launch of the supercharged Exige S coupe in March.

The British-based sportscar brand is recovering from a tumultuous period following last year’s takeover of parent company Proton by Malaysian conglomerate DRB-Hicom, and subsequent sacking of global CEO Dany Bahar.

Production of the Elise, Exige and Evora models was severely interrupted by the takeover, as DRB – well established as a component supplier to the likes of Volkswagen and Daimler – sought to put its stamp on manufacturing at the Lotus plant in Hethel, UK.

Australia was one of the only markets where Lotus experienced sales growth in 2012, with sales up 15 per cent. In fact, of the roughly 1000 units sold worldwide last year, 69 came from Australia, a proportional figure Lotus Australia general manager Glen Sealey called “very very high”.

As a result, Mr Sealey told us this week that the local market had been particularly hard hit by supply shortages, with stock levels almost cleaned out. Indeed, he said the four units sold in January this year was “good” in the circumstances, until new supply of the entire range arrives in April.

Perversely, despite what looks like a small number of sales, Ateco could be perceived as a victim of its own success.

 center imageLeft: EAI Lotus Australia chief Glen Sealey.

“It’s a good brand with fantastic heritage and it deserves more,” he said.

“But we will ramp it and we’ll use the Exige S as the launch platform, the Elise S is a well priced, well-positioned car and we will re-look at what we do with Evora. But compared globally we do well with Evora.” “On seeing what things were like in Hethel, DRB was surprised to say the least, and there was huge turmoil in terms of its relations with suppliers. It stopped production.

“Globally, it wasn’t a problem to stop production, because there was plenty of stock out there, but for us, it killed us because we’d been doing a good job and we ran out of stock. We’ve been out of stock for months – we’re hand to mouth.” The Exige S will see the return of the Exige badge to Australian shores, joining the existing Elise convertible (which starts from $67,990 plus on-roads) and the Evora flagship coupe (from $123,990).

Billed as one of the quickest road cars Lotus has ever built, the Exige S weighs 1176kg but shares its blown 258kW/400Nm engine and six-speed manual transmission with the larger and 357kg heavier Evora S.

Mr Sealey said the base Exige was not on track to return any time soon, with Ateco to focus on the higher performance option. Ateco will also look to expand the Evora range with the potent GTE.

He added that the new global owners had established order and the business was now emerging out the other side, although its ambitions for the brand appear somewhat tempered compared to what Proton had planned pre-takeover.

“DRB out of Malaysia have now committed their funds to Lotus, they’ve committed to a workforce, a pipeline of manufacturing and a plan moving froward which they have communicated to us,” he said.

“That gives the brand a level of security. It’s not going to be the brand that was unveiled in 2010 at Paris, but it will be nonetheless a good, strong, conservative plan for the brand moving forward.” At the 2010 Paris motor show, Lotus stunned the automotive world by previewing six new models that promised to revolutionise the brand and take it roaring into the mainstream.

The five-year turnaround plan also involved increasing sales in emerging markets such as China.

At this stage, Lotus’ global range still consists of the Elise, Exige and Evora.

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