Group Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales steps down for personal reasons

Feng Qingfeng is taking over the Group Lotus chief executive role from Jean-Marc Gales. Picture: Gro

Feng Qingfeng is taking over the Group Lotus chief executive role from Jean-Marc Gales. Picture: Group Lotus - Credit: Group Lotus

Group Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales has stepped down after nearly four years behind the wheel of the sports car maker.

Jean-Marc Gales has left his role as chief executive of Group Lotus. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Jean-Marc Gales has left his role as chief executive of Group Lotus. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Jean-Marc Gales has left his role of chief executive for personal reasons and will now become chief strategic adviser to Lotus chairman Daniel Donghui Li as well as taking over as chief executive at Essex-based classic car restorer JD Classics.

He has been replaced in the top job at the Norfolk marque by Feng Qingfeng, who joined Lotus's board when Chinese automobile group Zhejiang Geely Holding bought a controlling stake in the company last year.

Mr Gales has overseen change during a turbulent time for Lotus, coming in when it was making a loss and returning it to profitability last year.

The brand, which has been based at Hethel in Norfolk for more than 70 years, employs around 850 staff at its headquarters and announced plans to create a further 300 jobs this year with the backing of Geely, which also owns Volvo.

Mr Gales said the turnaround had been a real team effort and that the staff had played their part and shuld be 'extremely proud'.

He said: 'We must not forget that four years ago Lotus was in an extremely perilous financial position. The transformation, delivered through a revitalised product line-up, increased sales and stringent cost control has not only saved around 800 jobs in Norfolk, but it has created a further 200, with an additional 100 jobs in the pipeline for 2018.

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'Under Geely ownership, and with Mr Feng Qingfeng as Lotus' new chief executive, Lotus is in safe hands, with an exciting future ahead for this iconic brand and I will continue to monitor and contribute towards this development in my role as chief strategic advisor to the Lotus chairman.

'My time at Lotus is an experience that I will never forget, and the company, its people and Norfolk as a whole, will retain a very special place in my heart.'

Mr Feng is vice president and chief technical officer of Geely Auto Group and will take over immediately.

Mr Li, chief financial officer of Geely Holding and Lotus Cars chairman, said: 'Jean-Marc has stabilised and turned Lotus to profitability for the first time in the iconic brand's history with new industry leading products and unique business models since joining the company in 2014.

'Lotus is poised for the next phase of growth under Feng Qingfeng's leadership, where its expertise in lightweight materials and sport cars engineering will form part of the wider expansion of Geely's automotive portfolio.

'At the same time I will welcome Jean-Marc's counsel as chief strategic advisor to myself and the board of directors.'

Geely bought Lotus as part of a deal which saw it acquire 49% of its previous parent company Proton and the manufacturer has since spoken of its intentions to launch two new sports cars and an SUV model.

Mr Feng said: 'I am honoured to have been appointed to lead this iconic British sports car group. With Geely's global synergies and total support I am confident that Lotus has an exciting opportunity to achieve its full potential as a luxury sports brand, based around its engineering legacy and its future product pipeline.'

Lotus sold 1,600 sports cars in 2017, a 10% rise on 2016.

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Jean-Marc Gales breezed into Norfolk as a breath of fresh air for Group Lotus.

An ideal pairing, Lotus benefitted from his automotive management experience and the charismatic chief executive's lifelong passion for the brand.

In four years, he turned Lotus round, making most of limited resources and not being afraid to make tough decisions. Stringent model weight-cutting initiatives also helped cut production costs. The results were impressive.

Sales of the three-car range – Elise, Exige and Evora – rose a third to some 1,600 a year and a long-awaited return to profitability after years of losses.

It was a group effort, under Gales's attention to the finest detail, but with plans for an Elise replacement, the financial clout of Geely's ownership, which is working wonders for Volvo, and new Chinese-build models, the future still looks bright for the Norfolk sports-car maker.

It's just a shame Gales won't be at the helm to see his extensive labour of love come to full fruition.