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RE: Lotus: The perils of a hands-on CEO

RE: Lotus: The perils of a hands-on CEO

Saturday 27th January

Lotus: The perils of a hands-on CEO

PH chats again with Jean-Marc Gales, after an Evora test run didn't quite go to plan...



Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales did well to escape with a 30-day driving ban after being caught driving at 102mph and eight points already on his licence. But as he told PH when we caught up with him earlier this week, the defence put forward by his lawyer was no sob story: he really does sign off every new car personally. Ban him for six months and he can't do that. "On the road I do it. Gav [Gavan Kershaw, head of vehicle engineering] does it on the track. He's a racer, I'm not. But I can pretty much judge whether a car on the road is good enough," he said. "I am the typical customer."

He was embarrassed about getting caught on the A11, a fairly straight dual-carriageway that runs past Hethel on the way to Norwich. It happened while driving a prototype of the Evora 410 last January. "I was focused like hell on the car," he said. A police BMW clocked him from behind, the policeman who emerged recognising him but booking him anyway.

Gales insists he has the final say on the car's road manners. "I check that the car doesn't feel nervous, that it feels like an average driver can handle on the road, has a nice balance between ride and handling," he said. "And it can't have noises I don't like." Sign-off for him takes an hour, usually in the evening after he's finished work. Now he can't (the ban came into force directly after the court case) until well into February. He's also £832 lighter. No doubt Bahar would have hired a chauffeur in this situation, but Gales has done extremely well to drag Lotus out of the financial hole dug by his predecessor and that's partly because the company "turns around every pound twice" before deciding to spend it. So currently he's being picked up each morning by his head of manufacturing.


The ban isn't going to upset Gales when things are going so well with Geely, Lotus's new owners. The Chinese firm has made commitments over new models, including the inevitable SUV but also more sports cars (which will be revealed in three to four months, he says). "It's the best thing that could have happened to us," Gales told us. He said the buyout "saved us from becoming another Morgan or Caterham, making the same stuff over and over again. If we hadn't been bought that might have been one of the options."

Norwich magistrates were unlikely go too hard on Gales. The city has recently lost two high-profile companies, first when Britvic announced last year it was shutting its plant there and then earlier this year when Colman's Mustard, owned by Unilever, confirmed its exit. True, Lotus might not yet be in profit (this is the year, Gales promised), but Gales has certainly stabilised the company's finances to the point the company was viable enough to trigger a bidding war to buy it last year when Proton put it up for sale.

Staff numbers fell to around 800 but are now scheduled to rise again as the company can once more plan new models, something that hasn't happened since the Evora was launched back in 2009. There's even cautious talk of doing something with the giant, two-storey-high production hall that Bahar started but now lies abandoned; a soggy-bottomed skeleton reminding Lotus employees of past excesses on a daily basis.


Not that the taps will be opened right away. Gales is the man who, when he first joined, had his staff strip down an Evora, Elise, and Exige to their constituent parts and label them all with a price tag. Then he worked to reduce the cost of each, either haggling with the supplier, finding a new supplier, or asking whether it was even needed. For example he dumped the Evora's electric glovebox for the 400 facelift and replaced the Recaro seats with Sparco ones, 60 per cent cheaper and 6kg lighter (Lotus trims its own seats, and makes the standard composite and lightweight carbon fibre ones from scratch).

As new cars come on stream, these parts will now come from Geely, allowing Lotus to take advantage of premium Volvo bits, for example. "Geely has many nice parts; that's the important thing, that they have bits to allow us to make a class-leading sports car," he said. The chassis will still have to be bespoke, but headlights, electrical systems and so on will come from Geely or their global suppliers, complete with pre-negotiated discounts and reliable quality. "Sports suppliers are notoriously unreliable sometimes," he added.

What happens to the £30,000 Elise in the new era is another question. "I frankly believe manufacturers of small sports cars will find it tough to survive," he says, without explicitly answering the question of whether the Elise will or won't be a survivor. Increased legislation and the need to turn a profit conspire against it. "Sales volumes are notoriously low, investment is notoriously high so you need to do your investment well. So it's not an easy task, but the juicy markets seem to be a bit more upmarket," he said.

So maybe it's time for another Esprit? "For brand building Lotus needs something above the Evora," he agreed. "It needs a poster car again."

Author
Discussion

K2iss

Original Poster:

77 posts

161 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
The guy is now a legend. Not that I condone driving at this sort of speed on a dual carriageway... The Norfolk police should just close the roads for his sign off testing, he has saved Lotus after all!

zebede

103 posts

197 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
I’d agree with the first post, after all it wouldn’t take much for the police to assist! It’s not like they’re always busy.

80sMatchbox

3,237 posts

102 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
I love the bit about stripping the car down and then haggling or changing supplier to get better pricing on everything. It's often the simplest and most obvious ideas that are most effective.

He gives you great hope of a rosy future for Lotus.

When I was a kid, I knew a bit about cars and used to look at Lotus on a par with Porsche and Ferrari(n the era of the impact bumper 911s and Ferrari 308s). I had no idea about the size of these companies eye and it was all based on the cars appearance and Top Trumps type info. They need this again and it sounds like they will.

oldtimer2

619 posts

59 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
Sounds like double standards are in operation when it comes to exceeding the speed limit. I would have thought the proving grounds at Bedford would have offered him plenty of choices of road without having to worry about speed limits - and the Alpine circuit there just the place to try out a new car. It cannot be that far away and one day of his time would surely not be too much to sign off a product.

Riverside Red

488 posts

61 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
It'll be a sad day if we lose cars like the Elise, we need more sports cars in the £30-£40k bracket not less. The numbers of true sports cars are dwindling to be replaced by faceless hot hatches.

RR
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Olf

11,829 posts

144 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
80sMatchbox said:
I love the bit about stripping the car down and then haggling or changing supplier to get better pricing on everything. It's often the simplest and most obvious ideas that are most effective.
That's a really strong piece of leadership. Demonstrating clearly where the problems lies by making it tangible, understandable and a problem that people in the team think they can take a real role in solving. We're trying to do exactly the same in my business with major commodities that our contractors purchase, not us. Tricky but fun and empowering all the same.

Guybrush

3,924 posts

132 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
Shame such a jobsworth booked him; I am pretty sure the driving wasn't dangerous. I wonder if in Italy, factory test drivers on the public roads have to worry about such a thing. I doubt it.

Some Gump

10,169 posts

112 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
I'm all for having a bit of fun on the road, but bks. The public road is not a private company's test track. They own one, and can hire several others. "Being focussed on the car" and so failing to observe a copper isn't cool, and if the CEO really thing's going quickly in a straight line on a motorway fits the average Lotus driver, then he's met totally different Lotus owners than the ones I have met!

Edited by Some Gump on Saturday 27th January 09:40

charltjr

3,119 posts

121 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
What a strange article.

Just exactly how dumb is this CEO? Eight points already and he’s doing a ton plus on the road. Berk.

As for “police recognised him but booked him anyway”..... uh..... good? I mean he was cought doing over a hundred on a dual carriageway so it would be pretty outrageous if he didn’t get reported for it just because of who he was.

Does sound like he’s doing a lot of good for Lotus, certainly more than Dany bloody Bahar ever managed.

Nanook

30,127 posts

113 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
Guybrush said:
Shame such a jobsworth booked him; I am pretty sure the driving wasn't dangerous. I wonder if in Italy, factory test drivers on the public roads have to worry about such a thing. I doubt it.
I have to disagree with this. He clocked someone doing over 100mph. What was he supposed to do?

aelord

236 posts

151 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
sounds about right for 102 on the A11. I got 28 days and £1k fine back in 2010 for 103mph on the contiguous A14 near Newmarket.

Max_Torque

11,971 posts

143 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
MANIAC !!








V8 FOU

2,385 posts

73 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
Gales is a total legend.
He inherited a real mess from Danni Boy - if it weren't for Gales, there would be no Lotus today.

yonex

10,833 posts

94 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
Speed kills mkay.

Jellinek

161 posts

201 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
Speeding on public roads for a man in his position is disgraceful. Attempting to justify it as necessary, ridiculous.
Potentially launching a new ‘poster car’ project in the company’s present state is deluded if that’s what he’s implying, as is his belief he represents the best person to sign off a car.
My prediction is that Gales will spend the next 2 years burning through Geely’s cash with no profits and only succeed in delivering under-developed product which will alienate even more customers and reinforce the company’s existing reputation for poor quality. Sadly, I feel hIs new plan, just like his old one, is not viable.

EDLT

14,948 posts

132 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
He doesn't want Lotus to be like Caterham and Morgan, companies that make a profit?

Tango13

4,926 posts

102 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
An £832 fine? That's a lot of publicity for not a lot of money...

8V085

543 posts

3 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
100 mph, the speed above which kittens die and PH goes into self-righteous outrage mode. Also the speed at which an average German mum does a school run and an average German father commutes at (if they can't afford a faster car).

Blib

33,339 posts

123 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
Any publicity......

Gecko1978

1,736 posts

83 months

Saturday 27th January
quotequote all
Guybrush said:
Shame such a jobsworth booked him; I am pretty sure the driving wasn't dangerous. I wonder if in Italy, factory test drivers on the public roads have to worry about such a thing. I doubt it.
I went to Pagani a few years ago when they had just unveiled the Zonda R track only model. While we were being shown around they fired it up opened the factory gates an went out onto the open roads. I asked what about the police an our guide smiled an said they just get out of the way