New Lotus Elise production delays are believed to be behind the retirement of chief executive Chris Knight, 58, who was replaced by non-executive director Terry Playle, 68.
One analyst said Mr Knight, a former BP director, had “fallen on his sword” due to delays caused by issues over quality. “It has had a massive impact on Lotus' cashflow,” he said.
Furious dealers have accused Lotus of a “bare-faced lie” over supplies of new Elise, which they had expected in December.
One retail chief executive said the network was short of cars and surviving on used sales. Dealers, now receiving Elise deliveries, expect to begin supplying customers next month.
“We have a year's orders for the Elise, but have received a couple of demonstrators,” said the source. “Our customers have been let down, which reflects badly on us and on Lotus. Lotus also put a hold on the M250, despite dealers having lots of orders.”
A Lotus spokesman said: We have to ensure quality is as expected – the Elise has the highest quality of any Lotus model.” The M250 was being held back pending the results of a feasibility study into a world launch, he said.
“Lotus now has more brand awareness and we plan to launch the M250 globally rather than into key markets.” Dealers say Lotus has told them to expect smaller allocations of Elise than originally promised. One claimed he had been told to expect one-fifth of the original order, despite pre-selling his entire allocation, due to the delays.
Lotus, which this month announced 300 job losses, is expected to post lower profits for 2000 following a record high in 1999. The spokesman denied the results were due to the company offering cut-price consultancy services for Malaysian parent Proton.
“We treat Proton like any other client,” he said. “They want the best service so they pay for it. “The recent downturn in the world motor industry has caused a knock-on for our engineering division, which may affect profits.”