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Lotus ‘lean and innovative’

Dealers have been promised a bright future by Group Lotus’s new chief executive, Mike Kimberley.

In addition to receiving two new Lotus cars by the end of the decade, they will be asked to sell a Lotus/Proton high performance hatchback. Kimberley hopes this will rekindle memories of the Lotus Carlton and Lotus Cortina, which the company developed for Vauxhall and Ford in the past.

Kimberley was managing director of Lotus in the Colin Chapman era and took over as chief executive officer after Chapman’s death in 1982. He returned to the group in an acting CEO role in May this year, and became permanent in September.

He told AM: “Provided we stick to Lotus DNA and our niche marketing we can be successful. In the last few years the company has been manufacturing driven but we’re changing, we have to be marketing driven. We will stay in our unique niche, the same is true for all our models, and we need to look for sensible volumes from Lotus. Key is building the brand.”

Launch of the replacement for the Esprit supercar has been put back to December 2009 as Kimberley found that further engineering is needed to develop it into a flagship that will properly reflect the Lotus brand and provide a fun and involving driving experience. That gives dealers time to improve showroom standards across the network.

To ensure fresh product in the meantime, Lotus will launch the Lotus/Proton car in May 2008, which Kimberley says will attract a wider customer base into showrooms. That will be followed six months later by a mid-range 2+2 Lotus sportscar, currently in development under the codename Eagle.

Current production of the Europa S sports tourer, launched in September at £32,995, has been hit by the collapse of two suppliers. Although Kimberley wouldn’t elaborate on the delays, he says Lotus is receiving help from its administrators. However, the envisaged ramp-up of production is slow to occur. The global sales target remains 400 units per year.

The carmaker, based in Hethel, Norfolk, has been hit this year by poor sales in the US, which has been hit by rising fuel costs and interest rates. As a consequence, Kimberley announced 200 job cuts in September.

He now aims to restore “the sense of urgency and enthusiasm, and the can-do spirit” among his remaining employees. To this end, he is looking at launching a profit share scheme for the Hethel workforce, and from next April, Group Lotus will become a standalone business unit under its parent, Proton. Managerial changes are likely.

“We need a culture change back to when Lotus was lean, first-to-market, innovative and committed,” he says.

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