Lotus offers government Norfolk HQ as hospital in ‘protect and preserve’ plan

PUBLISHED: 17:59 02 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:50 03 April 2020

Phil Popham, Lotus CEO. Pic; Archant

Phil Popham, Lotus CEO. Pic; Archant

The CEO of Lotus has offered the government the Hethel facility as a make-shift hospital in the war against coronavirus.

The Hethel HQ of Lotus, which is being offered to help in any way against coronavirus. Pic: ArchantThe Hethel HQ of Lotus, which is being offered to help in any way against coronavirus. Pic: Archant

Phil Popham, the boss of Lotus, said he had made an ‘open offer’ for the manufacturing base with its buildings and space to be used in the crisis. He is also offering up his designers and engineers to make ventilators.

Meanwhile, he revealed Lotus’ Chinese owners, Geely, were making an airdrop of 50,000 surgical-grade masks and 1,000 gowns to the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital because of its link with the car firm. The supplies left China yesterday and are expected to arrive in Norwich at the weekend.

Mr Popham said Lotus was about to furlough 600 production staff – using the job retention scheme but paying them the extra 20% meaning they will be at home on full pay.

He said Lotus had invested £400,000 into new IT equipment and systems to make it possible for 750 staff to work from home. About 30-40 security and maintenance staff remain at Hethel which is on lockdown.

The production of the new Evija has ceased for now while Lotus is in lockdown but work is going on remotely and nothing will be cancelled going forward. Pic: ArchantThe production of the new Evija has ceased for now while Lotus is in lockdown but work is going on remotely and nothing will be cancelled going forward. Pic: Archant

He said he had hoped Lotus would start back in some form in late April but now gave an estimated date of May 4 but said he was monitoring the situation daily. He also spoke of how they were learning from their Chinese owners on how to get through the crisis protecting staff and preserving the business.

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Because of China’s experience with the virus, Geely bosses had been able to warn Mr Popham to get plans in place for when the British lockdown came – and also now start to think of a strategy for when work begins again.

But until then, he is offering the Lotus facility and his team’s expertise to help any way they can.

Group Lotus, Hethel, Norwich. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodGroup Lotus, Hethel, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

“In principle it could be for a hospital. It’s an open offer, we have space, we have buildings, we are not close to the city which is probably not helpful but if there is any need for anything, we have made that offer,” he said.

He said he understood help was needed in making ventilators.

“We have made an offer to government,” he said. “I was just on the phone to the councils today making that offer. We can work up quite quickly with engineering drawings and support and we have offered services in principle.

“In the next few days Geely is air dropping masks and gowns, they are doing their part to support the communities in which their subsidiaries operate.”

Phil Popham revealed his Protect and Preserve plan. Pic: ArchantPhil Popham revealed his Protect and Preserve plan. Pic: Archant

Mr Popham’s said his priority is keeping staff safe but he is also looking at how to preserve the business.

He said: “Geely’s factories are now up and running, their engineering facilities are beginning to run and their dealers are selling cars. Thankfully no one from Geely that we know of has died of coronavirus.

“We do have some stock with dealers over in China so we will see a progressive improvement over there.

“Short term, we have to make sure we have the working capital to preserve our business making sure we tap into any of the government initiatives and importantly to be able to start up and quickly when safe to do so.”

He added: “It’s hard to work out the implications, we won’t really understand the true extent of losses until when we start up operations again, clearly we are going to sell less cars than anticipated but this business is in a turnaround, it’s in a growth, a rejuvenation, so we are embarking on a long term journey to massively increase the size of the business for the future.

“Everything we are doing is to protect that long term plan. Our shareholders have been incredibly supportive. They are providing a lot of funds for our future programmes and continue to invest in our business.

“There will be some delays in finishing the facilities under construction at Hethel but our strategy is to protect and preserve, we are doing everything we can do to keep employees safe and ensure we can accelerate our start up when we return.”

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