Lotus owners break silence to quash sale rumours

The new owners of Group Lotus have responded to pressure to set out their plans for the Hethel-based car maker - insisting they have not taken a decision to sell it.

In a statement issued at the weekend the Malaysia-based company DRB-Hicom, which bought Lotus's parent company Proton in January, said it had not decided to sell the loss-making group and was supporting the management and the company financially.

It also said a senior Proton manager had been appointed at Group Lotus to beef up the existing team.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, who has spearheaded the Keep Lotus in Norfolk campaign, said he greatly welcomed the DRB announcement, but he has also written to the company urging it to end the uncertainty and spell out its intentions to invest in the Hethel facility or find a buyer who will, and warning that pulling out of Norfolk would 'drive a stake through the heart of the local economy'.

However it is not clear what the move will mean for current chief executive Dany Bahar's existing turnaround plan which aims to create more than 1,000 new jobs and produce four models of the sports car.

Mr Bahar's �200m vision has also convinced the government to support Lotus with more than �10m from its regional growth fund to help boost research - but a decision to release the cash has been put on hold until the future of Lotus becomes clear.

However, in a further sign of the current confusion, press reports in Malaysia are now indicating that DRB could either scale back the plan and produce fewer cars, or move to inject fresh funds into the loss-making car maker and bring the turnaround forward.

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Pressure has been mounting on DRB to reveal its intentions for the car company amid rising speculation that it was looking to carry out a quick sale, possibly to a Chinese car maker, with China Youngman, which already close links with Lotus, thought to be waiting in the wings.

Since the sale of the firm, ongoing rumours about its future prompted prime minister David Cameron to urge both the Malaysian government and DRB-Hicom to ensure future plans keep production in Norfolk and sparked a campaign backed by Norfolk's MPs, the New Anglia local enterprise partnership, and the EDP to safeguard the company's future in the county.

The press statement from the company said DRB as the new owner of Proton 'would like to clarify some important matters'.

'DRB-Hicom is currently undertaking an operations audit on Lotus Group, as part of its governance exercise. Contrary to reports that Lotus Group would be put under administration, DRB-Hicom is still supporting Lotus Group both financially and management-wise.

'DRB-Hicom has not decided to sell Lotus Group and do not know the source of the speculation about selling Lotus Group to a Chinese party, ie Youngman.

'As of today (Saturday 21), DRB-Hicom has identified one of Proton's senior management personnel to take up a position in Lotus Group in an effort to strengthen its management.'

In his letter to DRB, Mr Bacon said: 'Group Lotus plays a key role in our local economy in Norfolk. Lotus is at the centre of a cluster of advanced manufacturing and it underpins the success of the Hethel Engineering Centre. Lotus is also a key hub in the A11 innovation corridor linking the Norwich Research Park and Cambridge Science Parks. To remove manufacturing from Lotus and relocate it overseas would drive a stake through the heart of the local economy which I believe no responsible owner would wish to see.

'I greatly welcome the recent news that DRB-Hicom has appointed a new senior manager to Group Lotus to strengthen its management. I would ask DRB-Hicom take steps to end the uncertainty by announcing its intention to invest in the plant and build on the tremendous potential which exists or to find an alternative owner who will offer credible guarantees about retaining Group Lotus in Norfolk.'

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