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Why I sympathise with Lotus’ suspended CEO
Subsequent to this article being published, Lotus has announced the dismissal of Mr Bahar from the position of chief executive of Lotus.
Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious - this jokey acronym for Lotus is being directed at the grown-ups running the company rather than the cars right now. And in particular the big boss Dany Bahar, who's been suspended amid an investigation by his new parent company, DRB-Hicom.
I have a reasonable understanding of what he's going through as I've been 'done' for gross misconduct in my time, as has my fellow broadcaster James May - both of us by the same company.
Many moons ago we worked for Haymarket Publishing which owns lots of magazines including a collection of car titles. I was working as a road tester and news editor on a monthly when my evil crime was committed - I presented a five-minute item on Top Gear and the Haymarket magazine didn't get an on-screen credit alongside my name when it briefly appeared at the start of the film.
I got hauled into the office of an Alan Sugar wannabe (though without the levels of success, money or even height) who told me I'd brought the company into disrepute blah, blah, blah. I was eventually told that if I ever presented another item for Top Gear I would be fired and leaving forthwith with a boot stamp on my rear. So I did the honourable thing and raided the stationery cupboard before resigning just as my second item went on air...
James May's tale is much more cerebral and happened when he was on the subbing desk of a weekly. He had the task of editing the magazine's year book, a supplement so hefty it made War and Peace look like a pamphlet.
Clearly bored, Mr May cunningly made each page start with a letter that, when read carefully, became a humorously-constructed couple of sentences about the tediousness of his task. It was a fine piece of work and much admired by his fellow scribblers and readers alike. However, the suits had a temper tantrum and handed out another gross-misconduct card.
The Lotus position
Neither of us faced the full 'Lotus treatment' because we were never suspended - well I wasn't, and my memory can't recall James' exact terms and conditions - but Dany Bahar must be sitting in his garden at this moment wondering how his fortunes turned so quickly.
A former Ferrari employee, Bahar has been with the Norfolk-based sportscar firm since 2009 and was heading for a purple patch with a host of ambitious new models on the horizon, a £10 million loan from the British Government to keep manufacturing in the Turkey-rearing county, and a super-cool Finnish racing driver wearing the badge on his Formula One overalls.
It's a story worthy of a James Patterson thriller with readers now wanting to know exactly what Bahar said or did to his new bosses to cause such a strong reaction. I'm guessing something along the lines of "I have a long-term plan in place so please don't steer us off it", but peppered with more toxic words.
Anyone with a vapour of petrol in their veins will want to see Lotus continue to make cars that are great to drive, if a little tricky to enter and exit.
But the current state of affairs does put a question mark over the firm's future and particularly the six new models that Bahar had given the green light to. More than 1,000 jobs were expected to be created as the factory was set to double its output to 6,000 cars a year by 2015.
A local newspaper reporter knocked at Bahar's Norfolk home last week to hear from the horse's mouth, but was informed "by a blonde woman who appeared to be dressed in tennis whites" that Bahar would not speak to the press. Perhaps he's busy spending a little of his £1.2million annual salary bouncing balls.
Lotus is the only world-renowned car maker left in the UK that produces sportscars, with a heritage of iconic proportions. The current crop of the Elise, Evora and Exige range from £29,000 to £63,000 and each one is superb in its own right. But the current stormy waters have the potential to sink this great brand - at a time when it's never had so much global recognition.
So come on chaps! Even if the owners are no longer British, the passion behind the badge very much still is, so hurry up with the new Esprit (at least) and make sure it writes the headlines just as the original one did in the 1970s, rather than tales of the wrong sort of suspension.
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In the analysis I've read, this appears to sum up a lot of the concerns that people have had about Dany Bahar. In fact, articles seem to flip flop between "this is the greatest thing to happen to Lotus" and "it's all going up in smoke!", sometimes within the same piece; couple this with some disastrous recent PR, lubricated further by some fruity language in a budget-related discussion and you have the ingredients for dismissal, I guess.
It is a sad state of affairs for Lotus though; while not everyone might agree with quite the depth of its new plans, it was at least moving in a direction. Whether that'll continue with the new owners - and without Bahar - is anyone's guess, but without new models it would seem to have a limited future.
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