The tumultuous road for Lotus

Lotus cars are polished up at the end of the production line at Lotus Cars factory at Hethel.; Photo

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 - Credit: Archant © 2005

As Vince Cable visits Group Lotus to unveil new investment plans today, Annabelle Dickson looks at the long road the firm has travelled since its formation in 1952.

The Lotus story begun in 1952 when engineer Colin Chapman formed Lotus Engineering Ltd.

His first factory was in Hornsey, North London, but the firm moved from the capital to Hethel, near Wymondham in 1966 on the site of a former second world war airfield.

Team Lotus, which was split off from Lotus Engineering in 1954, was active and competitive in Formula One racing from 1958 to 1994.

The Lotus Group of Companies was formed in 1959 and created iconic cars such as the Elise and Esprit.

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Chapman died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 54, having begun life an innkeeper's son and ended a multi-millionaire industrialist.

The car maker built tens of thousands of successful racing and road cars and won the Formula One World Championship seven times.

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In 1986, the company was bought by General Motors. On 27 August 1993, GM sold the company, for £30 million, to A.C.B.N. Holdings S.A. of Luxembourg, a company controlled by Italian businessman Romano Artioli.

In 1996, a majority share in Lotus was sold to Proton, a Malaysian car company listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.

Michael Kimberley took over as acting chief executive of the Company and its Group from May 2006.

Kimberley retired in 2009 and Dany Bahar, who was formerly senior vice president, commercial and brand for Ferrari, was brought in to turnaround the loss-making company.

Owner Proton was looking to sink around £200m into a 10-year business plan to transform the company from a specialist niche car company into a profitable sports car brand, which would include rolling out an automated production line system.

Mr Bahar came up with ambitious plans for a host of new models, which secured the backing of the government in 2011 in the form of a £10m Regional Growth Fund loan to expand its Hethel site.

But the sale of Lotus' parent company Proton to conglomerate DRB-Hicom in January 2012 set off a chain of events which created huge uncertainty at the firm, and the deal with the government was put on ice.

Mr Bahar was dramatically dismissed in June 2012 and replaced by DRB-Hicom's head of vehicle manufacturing projects Aslam Farikullah as Group Lotus chief operating officer. Other senior figures left and dozens of contractors were laid off.

In marked contrast to his predecessor, Mr Farikullah has stayed out of the spotlight.

In August the first real sign of a 'new dawn' for the car maker came when bosses gave the green light to a plan to create more than 100 new jobs at Hethel in the wake of a £100m investment in the business from its Malaysian owners.

The grand plans of 2011 have been scaled back, but the government has now endorsed Lotus by pledging government cash towards its plans to create new car models and investment in research and development.

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