By on June 14, 2011

The auto enthusiast world has been torn apart of late by the re-boot of the Lotus brand, which is transitioning from hard-core enthusiast niche manufacturer to mass-appeal, high-end, branded premiumness. The photo above shows the first steps towards building a Porsche or Ferrari-like brand: Lotus Originals sells leather jackets and other branded goods in order to build up the exclusive appeal that the brand needs to bank on once its new cars arrive. But in China, Lotus’s branding issues are going to require more than just some sexy young things pouting in leather jackets while artlessly assembled around a piece of Lotus’s brilliant past. China Car Times reports that Lotus parent company Proton’s China-market deal with new Saab partner Youngman has already created some issues, namely

UK’s Lotus will enter the Chinese market on June 15 this year, but its Chinese name is Lu Te Si (“路特斯” – a transliteration of Lotus) rather than the well-known Lian Hua (“莲花” – Chinese for Lotus Flower), because China’s Youngman Lotus has used the famous brand to market its cars first, and Lotus does not want consumers to get confused between the low cost products from Youngman and its own high end sports models.

Youngman Lotus exhibited a Lotus sports car Europa at the Shanghai Auto Show this year, which is seen by Lotus as the latest irregular move violating the agreement with Proton, the parent of both Lotus Car and Youngman Lotus.

Some industry insiders believe that the problem between Lotus and Youngman Lotus may not be limited to brand. Some think there won’t be peace between the two as Lotus enters the Chinese market.

You see, Proton has allowed Youngman to prominently display its oblique ties to Lotus on its badge, as well as on performance-oriented versions of its license-built Proton front-drive cars. These tacky tuner cars were a poor reflection on the Lotus brand before it got its new emphasis on high-end branding, and now they’re just embarrassing. And with China accounting for huge amounts of growth at the high end of the car market, Lotus, Proton and Youngman need to sit down and figure out how they’re going to square this branding circle. Will the Lotus brand continue to be pulled between two versions of itself in China, just as it has in Formula One? Or will Dany Bahar’s mob force Proton to yank branding rights from non-Lotus approved road cars? It’s yet another lesson from the Chinese market: don’t introduce a brand until you really know what you want to do with it. After all, Proton’s desire to cash in on the Lotus name in order to move more Satrias and Personas may just have hurt Lotus’s comeback in one of the most important markets in the world.

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5 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Lotus And The Chinese Branding Conundrum Edition...”

  • avatar

    Lotus should count their lucky stars they’re not called Jasmine – that word is taboo in China since the Arab Spring…

  • avatar

    Lead image reminds me of the cheesy Izod campaign that they ran during the Indy 500.

    Indy cars in the desert!
    More supermodels!

  • avatar

    I guess this begs the question, does the transliteration “Lu te si” have any connotation in Chinese?

    At any rate, it seems neither Lotus Group, nor the Chapman family have managed the brand particularly well in the past so there’s quite a lot that needs to be put in order. Even though Tony Fernandes and Team Lotus prevailed over Group Lotus, I can fully see Danny Bahar ordering the branding rights from non-Lotus approved cars pulled. It’s the right thing to do in the long run, if your goal is to sell Lotus branded accessories. Though I’m doubtful how well they’ll do in Chinese courts if they sue for copywrite infringement.

  • avatar

    Lotus has a strong tradition of ‘tuner cars’, the Lotus Cortina, Lotus Sunbeam (last rwd car to win the WRC) and Lotus Omega/Carlton. As long as these Protons are worthy (?) or at least confined to Malaysia I don’t think there is a real problem when you can get Ferrari versions of the Fiat 500.

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