Lotus Chief speaks out on his plans for the company as the first Exige S is produced

The first production Exige S came off the assembly line last week, beginning a new phase for the Norfolk sportscar maker. Chief Operating Officer, Aslam Farikullah, marked the milestone event by speaking out for the first time about his plans for the company.

His statement comes 49 days after taking over from ex-CEO Dany Bahar, who was fired from his position after failing to comply with the terms of company’s syndicated loan, placing parent company Proton (and thereafter its acquirer, DRB-Hicom) at breach and therefore liable for significant penalties.

DRB acted decisively, removing Bahar and three of his key executives, to reassure the company’s lenders and agree the terms of a new plan.

But Bahar’s legacy is not all bad, despite some apparently reckless decisions, he did bring on board some excellent team of designers, engineers and production specialists – something DRB now seem intent on galvanising to their advantage.

When I spoke with insiders at Lotus earlier this year, the one aspect of Bahar’s management style that repeatedly stood out was his willingness to promise the world and then drive his team hard to deliver – it’s an approach I can empathise with, at the time Bahar was being encouraged to boost the perceived value of Lotus to disguise the ruthless decline in Proton’s profitability.

It was a high-risk strategy and one which backfired for Bahar and Proton’s ex-CEO Dato’ Syed – but it’s clearly not a style of management which DRB are familiar with (or have tolerance of).

New models will only be launched when the product and timing is right. Once we do launch a new product, we will ensure that we can deliver to customers anywhere in the world as scheduled.

Aslam Farikullah said at the production launch last week, “Our new philosophy is simple: We will keep announcements about our planned products to a minimum. New models will only be launched when the product and timing is right. Once we do launch a new product, we will ensure that we can deliver to customers anywhere in the world as scheduled.”

This is the reason why the new Evora variants, that were scheduled to be launched at last month’s Goodwood Festival of Speed were pulled at the last moment. Although the cars existed (we took photos of them back in May), they were one-off final prototypes rather than cars which could be produced in any volume (and to the tolerances needed).

When Farikullah was asked how he felt when reaching the production milestone for the Exige S, he said “We are very proud of the Exige S. It marks the first step towards consolidating and then growing the company. I know that customers have been eagerly waiting for this car, and I assure them that it will be worth the wait. We wanted to be sure that we had a product that was absolutely ready before launching it. We are confident that the right time for the Exige S is now.”

While some of the changes Bahar made were designed to address the quality of Lotus’ cars, it could be argued that this was the most important aspect to address before moving the brand upmarket. Farikullah’s focus is on addressing this issue, rebuilding confidence in the product produced by Lotus, before expanding the model range.

“Our emphasis now is on the finer details of what we do. I believe that the ability of our engineers and workforce makes them among the best in the world. We will leverage on this key strength as we revitalise and strengthen the Lotus brand. We can all look forward to exciting times ahead as we bring the company to the next level. But I am not a fan of the limelight; I will let our cars do the talking”, said Farikullah.

So what is DRB-Hicom’s vision for Lotus?

Well according to Farikullah, they want the Lotus name to become a by-word in the automotive industry for integrity. A jewel in their business portfolio that will showcase their ability to build the finest automotive products.

This should come as a relief to the many fans and enthusiasts who’d dearly love to see Lotus taken seriously, and for dealers who need the quality of the cars to reflect the premium prices (over Porsche) being charged.

Farikullah has begun this process by reinforcing the company’s Quality Assurance team – upping headcount by 20%. DRB-HICOM continue to emphasise their to the future of Lotus, “When I arrived I found a company full of talent, ambition and pride in the Lotus name. It’s my job now to re-galvanise the company and we will be doing that by investing in our existing talent.”

You’ve got to respect the calm and diligent manner in which Farikullah is taking on his new role, he’ll need the time to make it work and the capital to make the necessary changes. Farikullah is uncomfortable being in the spotlight and the business still needs a CEO to lead the commercial development of its sales channels and brand, so we await confirmation of this next piece in DRB’s recovery plan for Lotus.

  • AngloPom

    At last, Lotus is back on Chapman’s-track, leveraging the great work of Mike Kimberly and the real-Lotus team that produced the awesome Evora, that simply needs to be evolved into a comlete range per Porsche’s 911. Bahir was a lightweight who had no idea what the brand stood for, nor what its current and future customers expected.
    DRB-Hicom/Aslam Farikullah appear to get it; “Performance through Lightweight” remains the core Lotus ethos and its defining value-proposition that will distinguish the brand from the crowd.
    Rallying and Touring Car racing are the obvious extentions of this back-to-the-future approach; “badging” other peoples products isn’t. Without Chapman (or a worthy successor) the F1 episode was an embarressment.
    ACBC is smiling once again!

    • We are hearing news about a number of candidates for the CEO role, one of which may be announced sometime soon. It wouldn’t be appropriate to say at this time, but hopefully we’ll hear something solid that can be confirmed.

      As I’ve said in previous pieces, I can understand why Bahar chose the route that he did – you need to recognise that he didn’t do so on his own and he used the experience that he had in tackling the job. He’d never held the role of CEO before and his most recent successes were in brand building and merchandising, so you can hardly blame him for doing what he knew best. His biggest problem was promising more than he could deliver – its a SOP in consumer marketing, but not so clever for an engineering business.

      Bahar did achieve some things – he raised the profile of the brand to be considered again in the same breath as Porsche, Hethel looks a hell of lot better than it did 3-4 years ago and it is great to hear Lotus mentioned every fortnight in F1.

      If Aslam can rebuild the substance that was core to Chapman’s philosophy, while taking advantage of the brand’s increased profile then we’ll look back on this period with a little more fondness than we currently do.

      • AngloPom

        True, Steve, but the first rule of Branding is that “your Brand is not what you say it is but what they – your customers – say it is” and, on balance/that score, he failed miserably by lacking substance, alienating the core Lotus fan base and creating incredulity in serious automotive circles.
        Let’s hope the incoming CEO is a serious car-guy – I’m watching with baited breath & before I buy my Evora S.

        • You’re absolutely right. It was incredibly naive to alienate fans, customers and the existing franchised dealers.

          I spent a little time trying to help Dany (before his demise) and he did eventually regret some of these decisions and realise they were wrong. He’s not the sort of guy who admits that publicly though, but at the time he really believed he could walk on water.

          If what I hear about Lotus next CEO is true, then you should be able to buy with confidence, but don’t go for the Evora S, there’s a much nicer variant that should be along soon, just as soon as Aslam and his team get the quality right.