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After all the speculation, DRB-HiCom commits to Lotus

Editorial Staff

When DRB-HiCom took over Proton, there were fears that the bean-counters that descended on Hethel were there to close it down or sell it off. They played their cards close to their chests - but slowly, production numbers began to ramp up, potential purchasers of the company did not wander around the factory, a raft of legal threats (and stupidity) receded as the new management modestly and quietly found out what was wrong, where the money was bleeding from and stopped it and gave the workforce reassurances and support. The next phase is to find new buyers and the first stop after Milan, despite a penal tax rate on foreign cars, is DRB-HiCom / Proton's home: Malaysia.

According to Dato’ Sri Haji Mohd Khamil, when DRB-Hicom first took over Proton and all its subsidiaries, including Lotus, one of the Group’s top priorities was to look into reviving the Lotus brand. “We have many times affirmed our commitment to the future of this brand, and with the launch of Malaysia’s first Lotus Flagship Showroom today, we are again reiterating our commitment to the future of Lotus.”

“There are currently about 140 Lotus Cars showrooms around the world, and approximately 65 percent are 3S Showrooms, but what makes this Flagship Showroom extra special is the 372 square metre Customer Interactive Block, which was designed for Lotus customers in mind,” he added. “A ‘Lotus home’ for owners, this is where owners will be able to get together and ‘hang out’. This are will also be used to coordinate Lotus events such as Lotus Convoys, Races, and Defensive and Advanced Driver Training.”

But that is just a portion of the overall complex: The Showroom covers an area of approximately 1,060 square metres, and consists of sale areas for new and pre-owned Lotus cars. Elegant and minimalist, the Showroom was designed to convey the heritage of the Lotus brand. Retail areas for Lotus car accessories, LOTUS ORIGINALS merchandise, a delivery room, and open deck garden and customers lounge are also located in the Showroom building. The advanced and fully-equipped Lotus Service Centre is approximately 1,009 square metres in size and Lotus say it will offer the highest level of customer service to current and future Lotus owners. The Service Centre is able to accommodate up to 20 cars a day and 480 cars a month.

That's a lot: there are just a few dozen Lotus in Malaysia and Singapore combined.

DRB-HiCom hope that will change but before it can, several things need to happen: first, there are pending changes to the taxation of new cars. Those changes will help manufacturers such as Lotus. Secondly, the roads, especially in Kuala Lumpur city centre, need massive repair - and not just patching. Road surfaces are pitted, pot-holed and subject to cliff-like sleeping policemen to the point where low cars - Lotus is not the only example - risk having their bottoms ripped out.

The opening also marked the official launch in Malaysia of Lotus’ latest cars, the supercharged Exige S and Elise S. The Exige S was recently awarded the coveted Car of The Year title by EVO magazine, while the Elise S – the latest addition to the Elise range, is, Lotus says "perfect for the enthusiast wanting to enjoy the thrill of the ride with even better performance, without compromising on weight."

That has been a Lotus problem: for decades, the brand was considered a quality disaster area - people joked that LOTUS stood for "Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious." That reputation has been, largely, overcome - even Top Gear, never one to miss a chance to poke fun at the shortcomings of any vehicle - have recognised the quality of recent models.

But for several months last year, delivery became a serious issue: there were orders but the lines were slow and, sometimes, idle. It was this that the new management team set about fixing first: suppliers were paid, guarantees given, management systems implemented, far from the ad hoc spending arrangements under the previous management. Gradually, without harming the reputation of the company, the new management negotiated to get the supply of parts flowing and that meant that cars could be built again.

Whether the exciting new models announced by Behr (but reportedly designed before his arrival) ever see the light of day remains uncertain. For sure, they were a long way from traditional Lotus territory but there are prototypes and they are, by all accounts, spectacularly good.

And ideally suited to the long highway and country road journeys that are the norm for Malaysians once they break free of the traffic infested, potholed roads of Kuala Lumpur.