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Wednesday 14th December 2011


PH BLOG: FOLLOW THE MONEY

Like it or not, Eterniti and Bahar-era Lotus are going where the cash is


The Eterniti Hemera and debate raging following our Lotus story from our two swanky lunches in London this week reveal a degree of soul-searching among those who care for iconic brands like Lotus.

Not to your taste perhaps but to somebody's
Not to your taste perhaps but to somebody's
Eterniti is shamelessly satisfying a need it's identified in 'new money' markets like China. Bling is very much king and conspicuous automotive one-upmanship the name of the game among newly loaded car buyers.

It's a very different culture from that in Europe but one that high end carmakers need to cater to if they're to cash in. Porsche, for instance, has a vibrant 911 Cup in China according to Eterniti man Kenny Chen. But over there the race on Sunday, sell on Monday mantra takes a different twist. Inspired by watching 911s battling on track and reflecting decades of finely honed motorsport expertise your typical Chinese car buyer then goes to his Porsche showroom and expresses his admiration for what he's just seen by buying ... a Cayenne or Panamera.

Think about it. Here in Europe we've had over a century of motorsport and carmakers selling us cars off the back of it. It's a mature, sophisticated market steeped in history and tradition, the flogging of expensive cars to rich playboys on the back of racing success there from the very beginning. We - by which I mean PHers - watch 911s on track and we want to go out and buy a 911 GT3 RS 4.0. But, of course, it's only because the Chinese buy Cayennes and Panameras by the thousands that Porsche can indulge itself and build such a car.

And the generous assessment of Bahar's masterplan for Lotus follows this mould. If you believe him - and in person he is very convincing - all the celebrity flirtations, blingy supercars and hybrids are there to cater to the customer base with the money. Revered as Lotus might be it is - and always has been - a business. One that probably wasn't going to be sustained by endless Elise spin-offs. But the fact the more hardcore versions of the new cars are, apparently, referred to internally as 'GT3' cars has to offer hope.

Big money supercars for big money buyers
Big money supercars for big money buyers
Talking of following the money you only have to look at the team that's followed Bahar to Hethel to get an idea of how serious things are there. Fans of the brand remain deeply suspicious that it's all a pipe dream and Bahar's dream team will depart Hethel as dramatically as they arrived when the money runs out. But just think about how you convince a high-ranking Ferrari, Porsche or VW executive to relocate to Norwich. These aren't stupid people struggling to find gainful employment. And they sure as hell wouldn't leave jobs like that unless they really believed Lotus has a future.

Talking to design man Donato Coco I asked him how he'd been convinced to make the move. "When Dany asked me to join my first question was 'very exciting but ... oof!'" Bahar's powers of persuasion clearly worked though, even if Coco is vague about exactly how he was convinved. "It came to a few discussions and he confirmed it was all there and finally I agreed - I couldn't turn down an opportunity like that."

New PistonHeads recruit Chris Harris has a different view and one he'll no doubt be sharing come the new year. But it comes down to money and power in the end. For better or worse the one comfort we can take from it is that, whoever owns the business, British automotive expertise in all its forms is still viewed as a marketable commodity.

Dan

 

Author: Dan Trent