The announcement came yesterday, but it wasn’t unexpected. Dany Bahar has been removed from the CEO post at Group Lotus with immediate effect. Rather than speculate what happens next, or what brought Bahar down, it’s probably best to examine what should have been done.
Let’s assume, for the moment, that Bahar was hired with the intent of putting Lotus back on its feet and securing its future, rather than dressing it up for sale. Did it make sense to enter Formula One, Indy Car, Le Mans, etc. and ‘hire” Swizz Beatz, throw lavish parties, tie up with every D-list celebrity and create a line of clothing and accessories? In a word, no. None of these things were designed to get to the problems that kept Lotus cars off buyers’ consideration lists.
Each of these items was designed to take care of the first problem: awareness. Despite what we might wish to believe, Lotus is not on the radar of the car buying public, even in the sports car/supercar segment. It is tied too tightly to founder Colin Chapman, Jim Clark, Mario Andretti and has lived off its past accomplishments for far too long. History is important, but it must be used judiciously to establish a link between past and present, create an understanding of what the brand is about and support the brand in tough times. However, it can never be allowed to overpower the present or define the future – for too long it has done just that for executives too dim and too lazy to chart a course forward.
Few are familiar with the badge or the brand and how it influences their lives. True, confidentiality agreements make it tough for Lotus to talk about the vehicles, powertrains and technologies it has created for others – that’s a long and impressive list, with a few surprises. People would be amazed to discover that the engine in their vehicle (car, truck or motorcycle) or the suspension on the high-end vehicle they lust after, to name but two examples, were designed and developed in the sleepy little town of Hethel. Yet, it isn’t impossible to deal with these matters or to trumpet technologies on which the company is currently working. However, it wasn’t done.
Neither did anyone take the time, to use a hackneyed phrase, to ‘turn lemons into lemonade” by making a plus of the very things people fear. Things like building cars by hand, using plastic instead of steel or aluminum, borrowing engines from other automakers, etc. can either be a concern or a reason for purchase – especially in a digital age where company produced videos on YouTube can directly and, often, humorously deal with these worries.
Further, Mr. Bahar didn’t do the first thing he should have: boarded a plane (not rented one and painted it in Lotus colours) and visited all of the companies who, for one reason or another, severed their relationship with Lotus in the past. This ‘personal touch” may not have brought the companies back into the fold immediately, but it would have put Lotus back on the consideration list when they needed its services. Instead, Bahar alienated Lotus’ longest and most important friend,Toyota, and harmed that relationship deeply, perhaps irrevocably. That’s the one relationship he harmed that we know about – there may be more…
Nor did Bahar bother to understand what keeps people from seriously considering a Lotus car. This is the key to the health and well-being of the company and yet Dany Bahar could not be bothered with seeing why the brand has so few intenders, and what could be done – systematically, methodically and logically – to correct this. Without this knowledge and the willingness to change, failure is certain, no matter how many new and exciting products are introduced. They will not be able to break free of the prejudices that have built up and festered over the years.
Additionally, there was no attempt to break the grip of the ‘Hethel Mafia” and turn the company into a global concern that is headquartered in England, but not run for the pleasure and benefit of the English portion alone. For years the United States was ignored because no one at Headquarters understood the market, cared to learn about it or was willing to let it grow to a point where it might overshadow the home market in terms of size. This fear that the tail would wag the dog was not only jingoistic, it was pathetically shortsighted. One needs to look no further than Stuttgart or Modena to see how it is possible to satisfy an important market while retaining your uniqueness, identity and brand values.
Sadly, much of what Bahar did – and was allowed to do – has made turning Lotus around much, much more difficult. The Indy fiasco, celebrity focus, clothing and accessory sidelines, vehicle vapourware and more have tarnished the image of this once-great company and put the lives and livelihoods of its workers in jeopardy. It has not, however, killed it. Despite what DRB-HICOM may think, there is no reason Lotus can’t survive and prosper. Any turnaround will, though, need a strong and understanding leader to take the reins, convince the workforce the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train and work to restore the bonds that hold the place together. Some may believe that this will take untold amounts of money, but most of it requires the sweat and character of the workers and executives and the honesty to deal with the problems as they are, not as they might wish they would be.
[Editor’s Note: Christopher Sawyer is the former Communications Director for Lotus Cars USA and Founder and Editor of The Virtual Driver website.]