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Jun / Jul 2012
Snakes and Ladders

Writer: Nicolas Shammas

In just three years at the helm of Lotus, Dany Bahar has experienced highs (and lows) far beyond the norms of the automotive industry. Determined to rescue the marque, he’s made some bold moves but how secure is the future of his brand?

 

Dany Bahar has had a fascinating life. Born in 1972 in Istanbul to a Slovenian mother and a Turkish father, he has been tasked with some pretty big jobs in his career. Not that long ago, he was the head of the corporate projects business team at the popular energy drink company, Red Bull. Then he moved to Ferrari, where he was the senior vice president for brand management. Then, at the relatively tender age of 38, he was charged with his biggest challenge yet when he accepted the job as ceo of Lotus with a remit to reverse the fortunes of the ailing company.

You see, despite a sterling history, winning seven Formula One World Championships and building the kind of advanced, lightweight sportscars that James Bond used on some of his adventures, Lotus had lost its way after the death of its founder, Colin Chapman. It still had a number of top engineers on its books but as a business, it hadn’t turned a profit in years. Worse, it had allowed the competition to leave it behind. In the end that’s why Proton, the Malaysian government fund that bought the company in 1996, decided they had spent enough time listening to the engineers and in 2009, hired the services of Bahar, a marketing man they felt capable of making the brand irresistible to the public once again.

“Probably my first memories of Lotus are that of Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct’ and Richard Gere in ‘Pretty Woman’, who both drove the Esprit and for a young man growing up at that time, this was my dream car,” he explains. “But Lotus’ past is much more than this and if it did not have such an amazing history, I probably wouldn’t have accepted to come here.”

Bahar saw huge potential in the brand and his first task was to put together a team capable of turning his ambitions into reality. He successfully hired industry behemoths Donato Coco, who developed the 458 for Ferrari, Wolf Zimmermann, a 17-year veteran of AMG responsible for the Mercedes SLS and Erik Ruge, who built Porsche’s Cayenne factory in Leipzig. “Our plan,” Bahar continues, “is to change Lotus from its present position as a niche sportscar company to a builder of a range of premium sports cars.”

In October 2010 at the Paris Motor Show, Bahar revealed just how that plan was progressing when he stunned the world by revealing not the usual one, but five new models, due to be launched in as many years. Making this bold reverie credible was the fact that the money to build the cars - almost 1 billion USD in all - was reported to be ready and available, having been secured through grants from the British government and guarantees by Lotus’ parent company, Proton.

Then earlier this year, things got really interesting. It turned out that the Malaysian government had surreptitiously used the positive media coverage generated by the show to offload Proton in an overnight sale to DRB-Hicom, a Malaysian hedge fund that is said to be less interested in Bahar’s vision than in selling Lotus’ prize assets to a Chinese buyer.

“There was speculation from the beginning that Lotus was going to be sold one day, ” Bahar candidly divulges, “but when Proton got sold it was a bit of a surprise, especially given that things were starting to go well.”

As the shock reverberated around the industry, the media went into overdrive speculating that Bahar had handed in his resignation and that the factory would be moved to China. Certainly, production on the new models ceased.

For his part, Bahar, who has recently been suspended as ceo, has remained tight-lipped. “All I can say is that the future of Lotus doesn’t look as bad as the media speculates.”

As long-time fans of the cars ourselves, we certainly hope he’s right but however things unfold, it’s clear that Dany Bahar’s life has plenty more twists left in it yet.

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