Group Lotus bought by Chinese car giant Geely in ‘£51m deal’

Group Lotus chief executive, Jean-Marc Gales. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Group Lotus chief executive, Jean-Marc Gales. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

The new owner of Norfolk carmaker Group Lotus says it will 'unleash the full potential' of the famous brand.

Lotus cars assembly line at the Hethel plant. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Lotus cars assembly line at the Hethel plant. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Chinese car giant Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which owns Volvo and the London Taxi Company, is to buy a majority stake in the Hethel-based manufacturer, as well as 49.9% in its Malaysian parent company Proton.

MORE: 'Lotus deal could be a shot in the arm' – analysis

The deal, which has been submitted to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange where Geely's shares are listed, is pending regulatory approval which is expected to be decided in mid-July. Geely is believed to have paid around £51m for its stake in Lotus.

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Daniel Donghui Li, executive vice president of Geely, said: 'Reflecting our experience accumulated through Volvo Cars' revitalization, we also aim to unleash the full potential of Lotus Cars and bring it into a new phase of development by expanding and accelerating the rolling out of new products and technologies.'

EDP/EADT Top 100 firm Lotus was bought by Proton in 1996.

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But sales have suffered in recent years with the firm reporting losses of £41m for the year to March 2016, down from £45.2m the year before.

The business employs around 750 people in Norfolk, supports almost as many jobs again in the local supply chain, and celebrated its 50th anniversary at Hethel last year.

Chief executive Jean-Marc Gales launched a turnaround plan three years ago, and said last month he had returned the company to profitability.

Mr Donghui Li said: 'With Proton and Lotus joining the Geely Group portfolio of brands we strengthen our global footprint and develop a beachhead in South East Asia.'

Proton will be selling its entire stake in Lotus and exiting the sports car industry, with Etika Automotive taking up the remaining 49%.

Julian Munson, head of enterprise zones and innovation at New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership said the company was 'a major driver in the local economy'.

'We look forward to building a relationship with Geely Holdings to help realise the full potential of the Lotus operation here in Norfolk, building on its important local heritage and looking forward to an exciting future for the company,' he said.

Back in 2015, the group agreed a deal to produce vehicles for the Far East in a joint venture with Goldstar Heavy Industrial Co.

Mark Henry, head of East Anglian law firm Birketts' Automotive Industry Group, said: 'Lotus is an iconic British sport-car brand with a fantastic heritage and exciting models – past, present and future. Chinese car giant Geely taking this stake in Lotus' owner should secure the investment to enable Lotus to unlock its full potential in the same way that other iconic British brands have in recent years.'

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