Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Proton to develop small cars with Lotus

SHAH ALAM: PROTON HOLDINGS BHD [] and its subsidiary, British sports carmaker Lotus Group International Ltd, plan to jointly develop small cars with hybrid TECHNOLOGY [] for the global market, with the first model most likely to be ready within the next 18 to 24 months.

Its managing director Datuk Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Tahir, said the plan was part of a closer collaboration between the carmakers to take on challenges in the global car market that entailed industry players to come out with small, fuel-efficient and environmental-friendly cars.

"Many parties are eyeing Lotus for its iconic brand but we have not fully exploited the areas of possible collaborations, even though Lotus has been part of Proton for more than a decade.

"We want to integrate more Lotus technology into our cars, not only in pure handling but in terms of electronics, light trains as well as hybrid and electric vehicles," Zainal said after a presentation to the media on Lotus' five-year tranformation plan. The national carmaker acquired Lotus in 1996.

The small cars with engine capacities ranging from one litre to 1.5 litres will be sold in markets where both Lotus and Proton are currently operating. Proton is now present in over 25 countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, UK, Australia, South Africa, Turkey and Iran.

Lotus, which produces iconic cars such as the Elite, Europa, Esprit, Elise and Evora, has presence in 30 markets, including the US and India, with plans to expand into another 25 markets in the next five years.

A legendary name in the automotive world, Lotus thrived in the early 1970s and 1980s on the strong foundation built by its founder Colin Bruce Chapman in 1948. But reflective of its decline, Evora, Lotus' first new car since 1995 was launched only last year.

The Norfolk, UK-based carmaker has been loss making for most of the past decade, including a ''13.23 million (RM62.8 million) loss in the financial year ended March 31, 2009, although it recorded a profit of ''2.25 million the previous year mainly due to foreign currency translation gains. Lotus group CEO Dany Bahar, who was appointed to the role in October 2009, will be tasked with transforming it from a niche sports car maker to a premium high-end luxury sports car manufacturer, taking on the likes of Ferarri, Porsche and Aston Martin.

As part of a five-year tranformation plan, Lotus hopes to be'' profitable and plans to more than triple its annual production from 2,500 cars to 8,000 by 2015.

Respected names from the automobile industry have been lined up to lead the revamp at Lotus, including Frank Tuch, currently the director of quality management at Porsche as director of quality management; Andreas Prillimann, director of sales at Ferrari, as chief commercial officer while Ferrari director of design Donato Coco is named the new director of design.

Perhaps as a sign of its seriousness in ramping up its quality and brand name, Proton has announced the appointment of Tan Sri Rainer Altoff as its independent and non-executive director.

Altoff is the chairman of Nokia Siemens Network Malaysia Sdn Bhd and former president and CEO of Siemens (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd from 1999 to 2009.

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