LOTUS, the exotic British sports car brand, has new owners. And guess what? They’re not British.
Instead, DRB-HICOM – the group of investors behind Malaysian car maker and now former Lotus owner Proton – has announced it will quit the loss-making sports car business that it has owned since 1996, selling it to Volvo’s new owner, Chinese young dragon Geely.
But as part of the deal, Geely will also gain a 49.9 percent stake in Proton – not quite, but almost an equal share of the brand – which will give the Malaysian car maker some much-needed undisclosed cash, as well as a source of the replacement engines that meet tightening global emissions standards, something it currently desperately lacks.
“The deal will enable Proton to tap into Geely Holding’s vast range of platforms and powertrains, and will also enable Proton to have access to existing markets of the Chinese car maker, as well as right-hand-drive markets in south-east Asia,” Proton said in a statement.
Both parties expect to sign the deﬁnitive agreement in July.
The fresh cash injection means the troubled 30-year-old Proton brand gains a stay of execution, and can even potentially one day spin off a more premium sub-brand similar to the Geely-owned Lync and Co that will use Volvo’s latest compact modular architecture underpinnings to build luxury SUVs.
The deal also gives Geely access to all the background work on attempts to hybridise the Lotus platform, an idea foreshadowed by five stillborn concept cars including a reborn Evora that were revealed in 2010 and something of an area of expertise for Volvo.
The cash-heavy Geely – last year it attracted $US400 million to help it build electric taxis in the first-ever foreign fundraiser by a Chinese car maker – will also gain instant access to key south-east Asian markets, as well as tapping into the Proton/Lotus research and development centres, and manufacturing facilities.
Proton is in something of a holding pattern in Australia as its stockpile of 2016-plated cars – built before more strict emissions standards for petrol engines were introduced late last year – dwindles. Last month it sold a single car here.
It still lists the Suprima S hatch, Preve sedan and Exora seven-seat people mover-styled wagon as on sale.
Geely recently announced a new set of architectures that will underpin future Volvo-badged models, including small and larger scalable platforms.
The Scalable Product Architecture platform, designed for large cars, has already arrived as the new XC90 SUV and S90 sedan range.
The Compact Modular Architecture is expected to make its debut beneath Volvo’s new XC40 crossover, a car previewed by the 40.1 concept unveiled late last year.