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Norfolk MP presses for House of Commons debate on the future of Group Lotus

PUBLISHED: 07:56 17 April 2012

Lotus cars are polished up at the end of the production line at Lotus Cars factory at Hethel.; Photo: Denise Bradley; Copy: file pix; For: EDP file pix; Archant Norfolk pics © 2005; (01603) 772434

Lotus cars are polished up at the end of the production line at Lotus Cars factory at Hethel.; Photo: Denise Bradley; Copy: file pix; For: EDP file pix; Archant Norfolk pics © 2005; (01603) 772434

Archant © 2005

A Norfolk MP is urging ministers to debate the fate of car maker Lotus in Parliament amid growing fears for the future of more than 1,000 jobs, as evidence emerged of a new link between the Hethel-based firm and Chinese car company China Youngman.

Richard Bacon will call on House of Commons speaker John Bercow to agree to an emergency debate amid mounting criticism of Lotus’s new Malaysian owners DRB-Hicom, which bought its parent company Proton in January, and is now rumoured to be looking for a quick sale to a Chinese buyer, raising fears that assets and production would simply be shipped to China with devastating consequences for the Norfolk economy.

The South Norfolk MP condemned DRB-Hicom for its handling of the current situation, and the way the Proton deal had starved Lotus of funds, but he also took aim at Lotus bosses for keeping staff in the dark over its plans.

Now, in a further twist, the EDP has learned that Group Lotus boss Dany Bahar was instrumental with another director, Azman Bin Abdullah, in registering a new joint venture, Lotus Youngman, at Companies House on January 13, three days before the sale of Proton was announced.

Lotus last night said Mr Bahar was unavailable to comment as he was heading to the Beijing Motor Show with officials from China Youngman, which imports Lotus cars.

But in a statement, the company insisted the move, which was only announced to the Malaysian stock exchange last week, was nothing to do with any potential sale.

However, the assurances are unlikely to do little to assuage fears that the venture could be little more than a vehicle to facilitate the purchase of Lotus assets.

Mr Bacon said the move was further evidence that action was needed to safeguard the jobs of Lotus workers in Norfolk.

“I believe that a deal can be hammered out which secures the future of Group Lotus in Norfolk and that is what we all want to see,” Mr Bacon said. “Group Lotus employees have the right to know what is going on. So far the management of Group Lotus has done a poor job of communicating and that needs to change. I will not be reassured until the actual position has been clarified and the jobs of Lotus employees are safeguarded.

“Drip-feeding a company barely enough to pay the salaries is not a

business strategy,” Mr Bacon added. “The new owners of Group Lotus have a responsibility either to back the business or to find alternative owners who have the financial muscle and the knowledge of global markets to take the company forward.

“In the right hands, Group Lotus has great potential to be a thriving and expanding business, particularly given the company’s expertise in hybrid and electric technologies. However, the longer this uncertainty lasts, the more damaging it is to the company’s prospects.

“The Chinese car industry is still many years behind ours and it is not obvious how a Chinese buyer would help Lotus or help to safeguard Norfolk jobs.”

Calling for ministers to get involved, he added: “If there are large numbers of jobs at stake, ministers take an interest. The government’s policies are designed to encourage more jobs not fewer, and last year the government promised more than £10m of its regional growth fund to Lotus. I want to hear what ministers are thinking about that and what they are planning to do.”

The MP also questioned the latest Lotus Youngman venture.

“I suspect there is more to this than meets the eye,” he said. “If it’s genuinely nothing to worry about, then the company should go on the front foot and say very clearly why this is the case. Lotus Youngman was incorporated in January 2012, so this raises serious questions as to why the Malaysian stock exchange wasn’t informed until last Thursday.”

China Youngman, which is the importer for Lotus, was last year involved in the failed bid to buy Swedish car firm SAAB, and the company already has links with Lotus after establishing a joint research and development centre.

Last week, Genii Capital, the Luxembourg investment vehicle whose F1 team was sponsored by Group Lotus, confirmed it was interested in buying the car maker and was keen to keep production in Norfolk.

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