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Proton, Lotus to jointly develop global small car

At the briefing (from left): Syed Zainal Abidin, Datuk Mohd Nadzmi and Dany Bahar.At the briefing (from left): Syed Zainal Abidin, Datuk Mohd Nadzmi and Dany Bahar.PETALING JAYA, June 22 — Proton Holdings Berhad and its wholly-owned subsidiary Group Lotus Plc are jointly working on developing small cars for the global market.

Proton said today that the cars — likely to have 1-litre to 1.5-litre engines — will share identical mechanical underpinnings, powertrains and electrical systems but will differ in terms of the interior and exterior design.

The Proton version will have five doors and is aimed at the Asia and Middle East market while the Lotus version will be aimed at the global sports car market.

Proton group managing director Datuk Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir said that it is a market-driven project as trends indicate consumer demand for small fuel-efficient cars.

“It has to be done,” he said in a media briefing today.

He declined to commit to a time frame but said that such cars typically take 18 to 24 months to develop.

The collaboration is part of efforts by Proton to better leverage the brand and expertise of its iconic UK asset.

The Lotus management is in Malaysia and will spend the next day and a half with Proton management working on ways to strengthen collaboration between the two companies.

“There will be issues but group willpower will prevail,” said Syed Zainal.

Lotus, which was acquired by Proton over a decade ago, has yet to turn a profit. Proton declined to say how much more it is investing into Lotus but said it was looking at a five-year time frame to make Lotus profitable.

As part of its bid for profitability, Lotus plans to triple production from 2,500 cars to 8,000 cars per annum.

It also plans to rebrand itself from a niche car maker to a premium high-end sports car manufacturer and benchmark itself against companies like Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche.

To that end, it has recruited several key players from other luxury sports car manufacturers, mostly Ferrari and Porsche.

Donato Coco, former director of design at Ferrari, is its new director of design. Joining him are Wiebke Bauer, former head of merchandising and product management at Ferrari who will now head Lotus merchandising, and Guillaume Chabin, former general manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Ferrari who is now director of sales at Lotus.

Frank Tuch, former director of quality management at Porsche, is now chief operating officer at Lotus. Joining him are Erik Ruge, former logistics manager at Porsche Leipzig who is now director of industrial processes at Lotus.

Andreas Schlegel, former GM of marketing and network development at Aston Martin, is now director of marketing at Lotus.

“I call this the Real Madrid of the sports car industry,” said Lotus CEO Dany Bahar.

Asked about news reports that Proton is in talks with Indian conglomerate Mahindra and Mahindra to enter the Indian market, Proton said it is in talks with a potential partner in India but declined to identify the party.

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