Interview: Lotus CEO Dany Bahar

New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman recently sat down with Dany Bahar to discuss the Lotus's new direction. It got a little ugly.

AM: I'm a big fan of Lotus . . .
DB: So then this must be a shock for you?

AM: Well, yeah. And I have to say I'm not entirely sure I'm down with the program. I'm concerned, frankly, about how heavy the new cars are going to be. I can sort of understand the business reasoning, which is probably not unlike Colin Chapman's own in the 1970s when he went upmarket with the Esprit and the Elite.
DB: So you mean what Chapman did in the '70s and '80s was wrong? When did Lotus have its greatest success when it comes to image, perception, to being a real sports car manufacturer -- when was that? Certainly not now. I think it was at the time when Chapman tried to sell Elites and Esprits.

AM: They didn't work out.
DB: But does it mean that twenty-five years later it has to turn out the same way commercially?

AM: No, it doesn't, although I would say that the company's image was built with things like the Elan, and the Elise was a car that went all the way back to the core value.
DB: The core value of who?

AM: Of Lotus, the brand. What the brand stood for was lightness.
DB: Was that the Esprit with the 1300 kilogram [curb weight]? So you think that was wrong? The Elite with 1290 kilos, that was wrong?

AM: I would say that I'm resistant, I want to be persuaded, I hope I'm wrong. I know from speaking to other journalists that there has been just a massive sigh of disbelief about all these new cars.
DB: A massive, say again, a massive?

AM: Sigh of disbelief, yes. People go, "Well, they don't really mean that, you know, they're not really going to build that, they're just raising money."
DB: The press feedback after Paris was huge, and I believe the negative part of this was less than ten percent.

AM: You probably saw more than I did, and I would probably hear the negative part more than the positive part.
DB: Yeah, because you are part of this enthusiast group that see Lotus in a certain way, and I don't agree with that.

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Marketing is, basically, mythology. For Lotus, simplicity and lightweight were myths faced to marketing trends of the 90sViewing things realistically, Lotus 56, 63, 77, wingcars 78, 79 and 80, twin chassis 88, esprit within active suspension, etc., were neither light nor simpleLotus is smart engineering, innovation and sophistication (that eventually can be light and simple)But brand myths have to be supported by icons. Lotus icons are Seven and Elise. They lost the first, should not afford to lose the second. Is the Mini, the 911, the Cinquecento of Hethel.Interesting interview. Saluti!

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