PH Blog: follow the money

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.



Comments (19) Join the discussion on the forum

  • V8 GRF 14 Dec 2011

    I'm not a fan of the big SUVs and similar but I guess if they appeal to another market other than the traditional one then it would be financial suicide for a company to ignore that market, especially when the 'traditional' market doesn't seem to be buying the existing product.

  • Gorbyrev 14 Dec 2011

    The Cygnet will bring Aston emissions to the point of meeting EU regs, the Cayenne / Panamera mean the Cayman & 911 stay in production. If companies need to chase the cash there is always the possibility of making an enthusiast's car (GT-86 / BRZ anyone?). So there will be 2 Esprit's - a blingtastic one and a stripped out R. Makes sense to me. The old Esprit had a foot in both camps too. What if Lotus had made a successful luxury car that made the money to engineer their own gearbox for the Esprit instead of relying on the Renault 25 or headlining that didn't peel off like wrapping paper? Marque purity is a hiding to nothing. What we need are car manufacturers who understand what will make a profit and then invest some of that in the kind of machines that increase the blood flow IMHO. The only exception is if the enthusiast's motor ends always ends up costing GT3 money. Then we will be in trouble.

  • randomcash 14 Dec 2011

    Still think Lotus is chasing an even more niche market than before with it´s ´Swizz Beatz´ endorsement.

    Happy with the idea of a new direction, but I think they should´ve grabbed Ferrari´s marketing dept too, not just their designer. Whoever selected their US target segment is clueless IMO.

  • Mr Gear 14 Dec 2011

    Don't kid yourself that the British market is any more "sophisticated" or "mature" than the Chinese or Russians: There are plenty of Cayennes and Panameras over here to prove it.

    Neither appeal to me in the slightest, but there must be some domestic and European demand, and Porsche are probably kicking themselves that they didn't think of it before.

    I bet if Lotus released a 4x4 or an SUV (whatever one of those is) it would be snapped up by the same sort of people from Essex to Edinburgh and everywhere in between.

  • PhilJames 14 Dec 2011

    Lotus marketing have been destroying the integrity of the brand through the alienation of their existing customers and failing to have a coherent marketing plan. Do Lotus know their market? I don't think so and with so many U turns brash and clumsy announcements from the CEO over the past 2 years, even Lotus owners don't seem to know who Lotus is aiming their cars at.

    Lotus entered a new Era, abandoned the current market because 'it doesn't make money' yet there was no product for the 'new era' customer to buy, Lotus are in limbo and their Engineering is 2nd to none but with no product and bad marketing the ambitions seem just too far for Lotus to reach in what is essentially a recession.

    I think Lotus should have built their product line one car at a time and spent the media budget wisely on marketing the new cars at the new customers without - trying to reinvent the brand whilst playing on it's heritage.

    There is a glimpse of hope in what Lotus engineering can do and if the Lotus management can learn from their very public mistakes they stand a better chance than any of being successful in their new era of cars. If Lotus cars are a bigger customer to Lotus Engineering with their new era cars, then the R and D that Lotus Engineering is capable of, could dominate the industry to supply it's own customers with Lotus Engines and technology and hopefully both Lotus Cars and Engineering will fly the flag once again for Group Lotus.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment