The Malaysian owners of Lotus have taken the unusual step of quashing rumours circulating of an impending sale of its British sports car division.
Several newspaper articles have suggested that the new owners of Proton may divest its loss-making Lotus subsidiary. The ownership structure of Proton has changed in recent weeks, after the Khazanah Nasional Berhad sold its entire stake in Proton to DRB-Hicom.
In a statement issued today, the company said: 'We are aware of the many concerns of the different parties related to Proton – especially our business partners, with regards to the current plans and future direction of the Group and all its subsidiaries, including its UK-based Lotus Group International Limited (LGIL).
'Our new incoming owner is in discussions with the current management of Proton to get a clear understanding and assessment of the Group’s current business plans, before any strategic future plans can be mapped out, including the plans for our Lotus subsidiary.'
Why would Proton's new owners want to sell Lotus?
Because Lotus has been loss-making for some years and it isn't destined to break even until the slew of new products arrive inits ambitious five-year business plan.
The new owners may not be as patient as the previous ones. Demand has weakened for Lotus's current range; sales in the UK, one of its biggest markets, slumped 43% in 2011 to just 329 cars. That's the cashflow it desperately craves to fund the new models nearly cut in half.
What else did Proton say in its statement?
The new owners vow they are continuing full steam ahead with the plan to introduce the new Esprit, Elite, Elan and Elise in line with the five-year product turnaround.
'Our focus remains the same for all our current business plans and this includes Lotus’ commitment in realising its current five-year business transformation plan, of which we are happy to report, is right on track,' said the statement. 'As such, business is as usual for us and all our subsidiaries and we thank them for their professionalism and patience during this time.'
Is it no smoke without fire? It's hard to say at this point. The new owners will be looking very closely at Hethel's business plan and judging whether it has a reasonable chance of success.
Might the economy bounce back just in time to support the launch of four new sports cars? Will Lotus CEO Dany Bahar pull off an audacious MBO to snap up Group Lotus from Proton? Or will a third-party snap up Lotus in time-honoured tradition?
Stay tuned for the full story.