I’m a big fan of Lotus. Over the years I’ve admired their cars, but always from afar. Unfortunately, my father bought every car known to man except for a Lotus, so that kind of sucked. But I’ve been a diehard fan no matter what.
But now, the world is changing, and so too must Lotus. The small, baby sports cars that could topple giant super cars could soon to be no more. And that’s mostly to do with the plans of one man, a former executive from Red Bull and Ferrari, Dany Bahar. In September of 2009 he was appointed the CEO of Lotus Cars, and upon stepping foot into his new office, he started making some radical business decisions and changes. By now you’ve all seen the Lotus concept cars from the Paris and LA auto shows. And by now you’ve also formed your opinions on them.
However, check those opinions at the door, because I’ve got something special for you. While I was in Los Angeles I booked Mr. Bahar on Bob Long Radio, where I produce on-site at the auto shows, and after the interview he agreed to answer some questions for RawAutos, and here they are:
RawAutos: In a little over a year with Lotus you have already been viewed as a savior by some, and a spoiler by others, of what Lotus means to so many. How do you view what you are trying to do?
Dany Bahar: It’s quite simple; we’re trying to return Lotus to its rightful place. By that I mean a profitable business with a range of sports cars that can compete with the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin. And if I can just pick up on your point about the divided opinion regarding what we’re doing here, it doesn’t concern me too much, I think it’s completely natural when you take on such an iconic brand, people are bound to have strong opinions – we have been completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the media and the public and whilst I know that there are some who remain yet to be convinced, I like a challenge and I’m looking forward to changing their minds.
RA: When you were asked to become the CEO of Lotus Cars, what were your first thoughts? Was this a dream come true, or just another opportunity?
DB: Every project I work on fulfills my ambition to create or be part of something different. Something special. My current role at Lotus fulfills this ambition perfectly. To be honest, I didn’t specifically decide on one specific career path – I’m an opportunity spotter, I’m ambitious and I love a challenge, these things have dictated my career so far.
RA: Would you say you’re a car guy, i.e. enthusiast?
DB: I have a great respect for cars and I really enjoy driving, but am I an enthusiast? Well cars have become a big part of my life, but it’s also work for me and I believe in having balance – let’s just say that I’m a car admirer.
RA: If Lotus offered you any new or old car they’ve produced, what would you choose?
DB: Well I’m lucky enough to own one of the last Esprits that Lotus produced, a series 4 V8 – I have a lot of fun driving that. Naturally though I’m very much looking forward to driving the new range particularly the Elite, I think it’s just a sensational car and a real step forward for Lotus; and of course I’m also looking forward to having some fun driving the new Esprit.
RA: Lotus F1: it’s a promising future, I’m sure. Does this mean Tony Fernandes has nothing to do with Lotus in Formula 1 any longer? How will this impact Lotus’ street cars?
DB: Mr. Fernandes’ position in F1 is not something we want to comment on. We would like to show the respect to all of the new teams who have had the courage to build a team from scratch – but we strongly believe that our company does not have the financial resources, the capacity but also the time to do this. We believe that the Lotus name belongs at the front of the Formula 1 grid. In its history, the Lotus name was synonymous with success and engineering excellence.
Although the team in Hingham have done a creditable job as the most successful start-up team in F1, they are still years away from delivering results in line with the history and heritage of the Lotus name. Lotus-Renault GP are capable of doing this from 2011, and will put the Lotus name back where it deserves to be, among the front-running teams in Formula 1. We have a clear plan in mind: we join Formula One because we believe that our brand has the right to be advertised in any sports activity around the world. But it’s not just about branding, the Lotus approach is full emersion, we have to be completely involved. For us going into motor racing is about competing and winning, not just about participating.
With regards to how our F1 activity will impact on our road cars, I am a passionate believer in the technology transfer between a motorsport program and automotive manufacturing. It’s a natural consequence for an automotive manufacturer and we already have experience of this within our other motorsport activities such as the GT4 series.
RA: You’ve said before that the 5 Lotus concept cars we’ve seen in Paris and LA are to gain weight and paddle shift gearboxes because of the consumer. Is this a new consumer you are hoping to capture the attention of, or the traditional Lotus faithful?
DB: The cars we will produce in the future are heavier than the cars we currently produce, that’s a fact, but they will still be lighter than the competition. A lot of people have asked me why the new range will be heavier and there are some very good reasons for that – the main one being that it’s just not possible to produce cars of that size, performance and quality without adding weight – it’s inevitable. I’m aware that a lot of traditional Lotus fans struggle with this and feel that we’re coming away from the core Lotus DNA of performance through light weight, but I can assure them that we’re not, which is why I can say: a Lotus will always be lighter than the competition in its category.
RA: You have also said before that if Lotus didn’t do what you’re trying to do now, investors would leave. Why have so many investors stayed on with Lotus even though they’ve lost money?
DB: Our majority share holders, Proton, have stuck with Lotus because they saw the potential of the brand, but they realized that something needed to change to make it a profitable business – they clearly understood the future opportunities for Lotus under the right direction.
RA: We’ve seen the Evora Hybrid, but will we ever see other Lotus cars made into hybrids, or pure electric sports cars?
DB: Hybrid technology will be incorporated in all future Lotus cars in one form or another. The City Car Concept we unveiled in Paris is a great example of the future of electric cars from Lotus.
RA: When you were with Ferrari, did you ever meet Eric Clapton? He’s a personal hero of mine… so I’m curious.
DB: Yes I was lucky enough to meet him during my time at Ferrari – he’s a really nice guy and I hope we can find a way to work together in the future.
RawAutos greatly appreciates you taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions. Is there anything special you’d like to say to our readers?
DB: I would like to say a huge thank you for your continued support – there’s a lot of love for Lotus and I’m aware that people are watching the new management carefully to see what we’ll do – we won’t let you down.
So there you have it, folks. Straight from the CEO’s mouth. Now getting to meet and chat with Mr. Bahar personally, I must say that he’s an extremely well punctuated man. He knows his stuff, there’s no doubt about that. Can he turn Lotus around and make them one of the more profitable sports car/exotic car companies in the world? Well, I think it’s very possible, but I know they still have a long way to go. Do I agree 100% with what Lotus is doing with their road cars? I’ll say I agree 90%. The weight issue doesn’t bother me, because the cars will still be light enough to make a difference. What does bother me is the lack of manual transmissions in the concept cars, except for the Elise. But that’s for next month, January 2011, when Wolf Zimmermann, the Chief Technical Officer for Lotus sits down to answer some of our questions.
Also, how lucky is Bahar to have a Series 4 Esprit? Not only is the man good looking, well dressed and has a job we all want, he also has a car we all salivate over. Now that he’s CEO and owns an Esprit, maybe he’ll do something about a factory upgrade to the dodgy Renault gearbox used in the Esprits? Doubt it.
So in closing, give it time. Let’s see where Lotus is going with this one. Not all of you agreed when Porsche started making SUVs and high-end sedans. But it seems to be working out, because they’re producing better 911s, Caymans and Boxsters because of it.
A big thank you goes out to Dany Bahar and the guys and gals at Lotus for making this possible. Thank you for bringing an early Christmas gift to the RawAutos community.