There have been so many false dawns at Hethel that it’s easy to take the news that Lotus is about to be revitalised by a huge cash injection with a certain cynicism. Yet if Bloomberg’s report(which cites an unnamed source) is correct, then the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., which also controls Volvo Car Group, is set to invest a massive A$2.6bn into the hallowed sports car marque.
In addition to the cash injection, Geely is also looking to bolster its 51% holding in the company, with Malaysian partner Etika Automotive holding the remainder of stock.
The money has allegedly been earmarked for 200 engineering hires, a second plant in the West Midlands of the UK, an expansion of the existing Hethel facility and a new design and innovation centre, probably in Coventry.
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Geely has form here, pumping A$15bn into Volvo since its acquisition in 2010. Geely’s billionaire boss Li Shufu is also the single biggest shareholder in Daimler AG. In a statement, the company said “Geely is fully committed to restoring Lotus into being a leading global luxury brand,” but declined to elaborate further on its investment plans.
It doesn’t take a historian’s perspective to recall then-CEO Dany Bahar’s masterplan to transform Lotus into a Ferrari-rival. His product assault at the 2010 Paris Show included five fully worked-up show cars: Esprit, Elite GT, Elan, Elise and City Car Concept. Most bore the imprimatur of stylist Donato Coco, a man with the Ferrari 458 Italia on his resume. Therefore most took it seriously before realising that Bahar’s planning involved recruiting celebs like music producer Swizz Beatz to become company vice presidents and flying Russian gangsters on private jets to the Louvre to see the Lotus T125, a barely watered down F1 car that never reached a single customer.
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It was all a tissue of smoke and bullshit, predicated on two critical failings. Coming from Red Bull Racing and Ferrari’s licensing division, Bahar had no experience of either managing a tight budget or producing a road car. Seems a bit of an oversight now.
Zhejiang Geely clearly has a lot more substance than Dany Bahar. Its turnaround of Volvo is a case study in artful brand management. Can it do the same at Lotus? With the resource and the right people in charge it’s hard to see why not, but until we see concrete evidence of Lotus’ recovery, permit us a little skepticism.