Recently, I had the pleasure of regaling colleagues with stories about Lotus, Proton and DRB-Hicom during a dinner in Monterey, California. I was talking on an off-the-record basis and so was free to mention many of the things I have learned over the years, as well as my theories, suspicions, etc. Things I could never do in print without copious documentation… and a really, really good legal team.
One of the listeners at that dinner contacted me about Dany Bahar’s lawsuit against Lotus, wondering if there was anyone who would go on the record about the lawsuit, particularly why it was filed in Malaysia and not on the European continent. Here’s what I had to say: ‘No one is going to go on the record while Dany Bahar is still capable of hiring lawyers, unless they are indemnified by DRB-Hicom, so you can expect any testimony to come in court from people associated with/employed by Group Lotus. That gives them the greatest cover.’
‘CEOs serve at the pleasure of the board and shareholders and the new shareholders booted him out after, what I have been told, was a very thorough investigation. It’s very unlikely that Bahar will gain anything, if the case even makes it to the courtroom.
‘Bahar is asking for £6.7m ($10.6m) plus 5% of shares of equivalent value on the sale of Group Lotus or its flotation on the stock exchange. This is his real gambit: Bahar was given the job of selling Group Lotus when he was hired in and stood to make a pretty penny should that happen. The race team sponsorships, five new cars at Geneva, new buildings on the Group Lotus campus were all part of a scheme to make the company look healthier and worth more than it was or appeared to be at the time.
‘It’s that simple.’
Thankfully, Bahar didn’t ask for the return of the Lotus Esprit V8 that he had the company restore and update. It’s up for auction as we speak. He’s looking to profit from the sale of Lotus and this lawsuit appears to be an attempt to stake a claim to any proceeds.
Too bad Lotus isn’t for sale. Well, at least that’s what Bloomberg Business is reporting based on filings DRB-Hicom made with the Malaysian financial authorities. Despite holding what is estimated as a £200m debt, Lotus is seen as an asset, not a liability. Unless another automaker wants to bribe the company with silly amounts of money, Lotus is not going to be sold.
Indeed, groups in both the UK and Malaysia are currently taking the information gleaned from the forensic accounting that reportedly sunk Dany Bahar’s career and formulating a product plan the company can afford and from which it can prosper. VW may be a part of that programme, supplying powertrains as part of its current production agreement with DRB-Hicom, though that is far from certain. What is known is that the Esprit replacement has been brought back to where it was under Mike Kimberley’s regime and a replacement for the Elise is under consideration. This leaves Lotus with the Evora and Exige as its only vehicles for the next 18 months, though the Evora will reportedly be getting regular updates.
However, the elephant in the room is Caterham. Tony Fernandes has plans to grow that brand into the space previously occupied by Lotus and an Elise competitor — perhaps the last-generation car powered by a 2.0-litre Renault engine — is definitely on the cards. A big push is planned in Asia, which Fernandes and his team regard as being greatly underserved, while also adding to the product portfolio elsewhere. There’s even talk of invading the US in the coming years with cars that owe nothing to the kit car origins of the Lotus 7 in that market – if this is the case and if Renault agrees to supply the brand with powertrains, expect to see American-spec Caterhams sporting Nissan engines.
That’s where the problems would really start for Lotus. Caterham could easily slip into the slot Bahar abandoned before the brain’s trust at DRB-Hicom can put anything in place – especially since many of the old hands at Lotus jumped ship as the uncertainty over the company’s future grew and made their way to Caterham. The need for the new owners to act swiftly and steadily has never been greater. To do otherwise is to seal Lotus’ fate, possibly forever.
One casualty in all of this is the V8 engine designed and developed by HWA — the initials stand for Hans Werner Aufrecht, the founder of AMG — and destined for the Bahar-ised Esprit. DRB-Hicom has reportedly pulled the plug on the motor, unable to justify the long-term expense associated with supporting a bespoke engine. Perhaps one day it too will be found in a backroom at Hethel, next to the tiny, 1.5-litre turbo- and supercharged V6 F1 racing motor Lotus designed and built for Toyota back in the 1980s. That, though, is a discussion for another dinner conversation some time in the future.
[Editor’s Note: Christopher Sawyer is a former Communications Director for Lotus Cars USA and Founder and Editor of The Virtual Driver website.]