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Lotus set to get new distributor

Best of British: The Lotus Elan concept might be one of a number of new Lotus models to be distributed by Ateco.

Ateco set to take over Lotus in Oz as Proton-owned sportscar-maker ramps up models

Lotus logo7 Oct 2010

By JAMES STANFORD

INDEPENDENT importer Ateco Automotive is set to distribute Lotus cars in Australia from next March.

The Sydney-based importer of Citroen, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Fiat, Ferrari and Great Wall vehicles is in the final stages of negotiations with the Malaysian-owned British sportscar brand, but dealers and staff have been told it is a done deal.

Ateco, headed by New Zealand-born businessman Neville Crichton, is also preparing to launch Chinese car brand Chery in Australia, making a total stable of eight brands, counting Lotus.

Current importer Lotus Cars Australia is an offshoot of Proton Cars Australia (PCA), which took over the local distribution rights for Proton-owned Lotus from Prestige Motor Imports, a subsidiary of Zagame Automotive Group, in late 2004.

PCA managing director John Startari confirmed the distribution agreement was up for renewal next March, but refused to comment further.

Lotus has five Australian dealers – one in each mainland state – and all but one of them already take cars from Ateco for their Ferrari dealerships.

 center imageFrom top: Lotus Esprit, Lotus Elite, Lotus Eterne, Lotus Elise, Ateco Group governing director Neville Crichton.

Most of the dealers attended the dramatic preview of the future Lotus cars at the Paris motor show. Key Ateco staff also attended the presentation, with one describing it as “very impressive”.

When contacted about the Lotus deal, Ateco spokesman Edward Rowe said the company would not comment.

“We are always interested in new opportunities but until all negotiations and contracts are concluded we make no comment at all,” he said.

While Lotus is about to switch Australian distributors it is not about to mess with its dealer network.

Jonathon Stretton, who held the role of Lotus Cars Australia’s sales and marketing chief, is now based in the UK with a new role of general manager of network development.

As he explained, the Lotus dealership structure is undergoing massive changes in Europe.

“It is a big job because huge changes are needed for our network,” Mr Stretton told GoAuto.

While many European Lotus dealers have been terminated, Mr Stretton indicated that was unlikely in Australia.

“They could, but I would suggest it isn’t likely. We are happy with our (Australian) dealers,” he said.

Lotus’s concepts in Paris included a new lightweight V8 Esprit that is due to land in showrooms in 2013.

That car and the other models, including a four-door supercar, provided a clear indication that Lotus plans to move up to challenge brands such as Porsche and Ferrari.

Ateco’s move to import Lotus cars may not sit well with Ferrari, especially given Lotus is now led by a team that defected from the Italian firm.

Lotus CEO Dany Bahar, who formerly headed up Ferrari’s Commercial and Brand department, has been joined by new chief designer Donato Coco, who penned the 458 Italia and F430 Scuderia before following Bahar from Maranello to Lotus headquarters in Hethel.

Ateco’s agreement to import Ferrari cars to Australia is subject to “a rolling contract, of multiple years”, according to Mr Rowe, who would not discuss the current end date of the agreement.

Australian Lotus sales dipped from 81 in 2004 to 55 in 2005 and 47 in 2006 before hitting a total of 90 in 2007, the last full year of strong economic growth before the global financial crisis.

VFACTS figures also show sales dipped to 70 in 2008 and dropped further to 58 last year. To the end of August, Lotus has sold 40 cars in Australia, one car more than for the same period last year. In 2010, Lotus has sold 28 Elises, two Europas, nine Exiges and six Evoras.

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