Lotus is one of those brands that every auto enthusiast loved to lionize, despite (or possibly because of) the fact that it hasn’t made a profit for its owner, Proton, in 15 years. But now things are changing. Lotus itself is in the midst of a makeover, seeking to transition from niche sports- and track-car company to a Ferrari and Porsche-rivaling aspirational brand. Meanwhile, back in Malaysia, its owner, Proton, is undergoing a few changes itself. Having been founded as a state-backed business, Proton may soon be privatized, reports Bloomberg. And as a result, Protons private investors could push for a quick divestment of the firm’s Lotus holdings. One such investor, Gan Eng Peng of HwangDBS Investment Management, tells Bloomberg
It will make sense for them to sell it. Proton and Lotus are not a good fit. They are in different market segments, both in terms of geography and product.
Chinese automaker SAIC and Genii Capital have been rumored as possible buyers, although Proton denies all rumors that Lotus is for sale. The problem is that Lotus won’t be worth much until 2014, the brand’s earliest projected break-even date. And even then, Bloomberg’s analysis shows that Lotus’s highest possible value then still wouldn’t be enough to return Proton to profitability, in light of increased competition in its home market of Malaysia. But in the meantime, Proton has no (useful) synergies with Lotus, and as the automaker emerges from the warm embrace of government ownership into the harsh light of the global market, it seems that selling off Lotus may be unavoidable.
Which leads to an interesting question: which automaker seems most likely to buy up Lotus? My money is on VW, who might buy the brand for no other reason than to kill off Alfa, after Fiat refused to sell. Of course, then it might create branding challenges with Porsche, but Alfa would have done so anyway. Another possible buyer: Toyota, which supplied Lotus with engines for years. In any case, we can probably count GM out of the picture, after their abortive relationship with the British brand.