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Lotus hits back at rumours

Filing suit: Former Lotus CEO Dany Bahar is suing Proton parent company DRB-Hicom for unfair dismissal, and is seeking $10.3 million in damages.

Journalist under the pump as Lotus goes viral to counter rumours after Proton sale

13 Apr 2012

SPECULATION over the future of Lotus has hit the headlines, prompting Proton-owned Group Lotus to issue an unusual press release that addresses areas of misinformation in a modern social media style aimed at distribution beyond mainstream media.

At the heart of the issue are rumours about the health and future of Lotus as a result of last month’s takeover of parent company Proton by DRB-Hicom, one of the biggest conglomerates in Malaysia, in which the Malaysian government is a stakeholder.

Group Lotus specifically denied rumours that CEO Danny Bahar and Proton managing director Dato’ Sri Syed had departed, and that Lotus was going into administration.

Lotus attributed “the lion’s share of damaging rumours and misleading stories” to F1 journalist Joe Saward, who it pointed out is a director of rival British sportscar-maker Caterham, whose owner Tony Fernandez has had business confrontations with Lotus in recent years.

Mr Saward’s subsequent defence of his Caterham role relies on trust that he remains impartial, but he also pointed out that he did not write the specific rumours described by Lotus.

He had speculated that DRB-Hicom was disturbed by the level of debt at Lotus and could consider putting the company into administration or selling it off – possibly to Genii Capital (the investment company that owns the Lotus F1 team) or Chinese car-makers Youngman (which makes Lotus-badged Protons), Shanghai Automotive (SAIC) or Beijing Automotive (BAIC).

 center imageFrom top: Lotus Evora S, Exige S and Elise.

Edward Rowe, the public affairs manager for Ateco Automotive, the new distributor for Lotus cars in Australia, said much of the speculation had resulted from the Proton takeover being conducted in Malaysia, where ‘due diligence’ is done after contracts have been signed – not before, as in western countries.

Consequently, the Lotus business can operate only on a day-to-day basis while a team of lawyers and accountants completes the due diligence process, resulting in limited production because no new agreements can be entered into.

Mr Rowe believes the process will be completed within a month, but in the meantime has “limited our ability to get vehicles” by about half. He expects supply to return to normal by July or August.

Ateco believes it has boosted demand two-fold since taking over the Lotus franchise in August last year and is therefore paying a heavy price for the restricted supply, selling just two cars nationally in March compared with 11 in January and seven in February.

The company slashed Lotus prices by as much as $32,000 after taking over in August, but Mr Rowe said much of the additional interest in the brand was due to the availability of an automatic transmission in the V6-engined Evora four-seat coupe.

The first six-speed auto version of the supercharged Evora S flagship arrived in Australia in time to appear at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix last month and is now available for order, priced at $144,990 (a $5000 premium over the manual).

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