DRB Hicom’s decision to summarily sack flamboyant but expensive Lotus plc CEO Dany Bahar brings about a lot of questions. The direction of Lotus and what is expected of the UK respected motorsports design house and development facility, is now the focus of many observers. More importantly, how Lotus would bring about value to Proton and DRB Hicom automotive group.
The previous Khazanah Holdings Bhd’s controlled BOD of Proton Holdings Bhd. brought in Dany Bahar who was a Senior Vice President of Commercial and Brand for Ferrari, to make something really explosive for Lotus. He hand plans. He is supposed to bring in other big motorsports name. He wanted to launch five different models of Lotus, all at once. In short, Bahar was paid a lot of money, given a free hand and after three years, failed to deliver anything.
Proton Holdings Bhd. under Khazanah controlled BOD also did not progress far. It started with upstream. Khazanah did not bring in investments. As such, Proton did not get to develop new models for quite a bit. Sales went down. Naturally, productivity. They brought in Dato’ Seri Syed Zainal Abidin from Perodua and it moved a little bit. However with lack of investment and good products to work with, there is not much strategy could be formulated and followed through.
In 1996, then Malaysia auto mogul the late Tan Sri Yahya Ahmad acquired Lotus from Bugatti owner Romano Artioli. Yahya had big plans for Lotus, as well as Proton. However, a helicopter crash not long after the acquisition short-lived that dream, vision and of course, the roll out and follow through.
Now, DRB Hicom willing to put in money for the national car corporation. Being an existing player with the distribution of some serious brands under its belt and confidence to assemble other good brands such as Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen and Suzuki, they already invested a steady huge of monies for their auto-city in Peramu Jaya near Pekan.
DRB Hicom is also into manufacturing of components, which Proton is a major customer. In fact, a hefty sum of their income comes from this. They are also in the business of distribution and after sales service of Pr0ton cars. Within the group, they also do the hire purchase and lease financing of Proton brands. DRB Hicom also owns a private college within the Peramu Jaya industrial park, training students for the automotive industry and soon will be accorded with a college-university status.
Now the whole chain of the automotive industry is completed. Had they own petrol distribution chain and concession rights to tolled highway, then their entire value chain is comprehensive. Regardless, DRB Hicom now needs to strategise on the full extend of the chain of their automotive industry.
At one end, they already have the Lotus as a design house and development facility. The brand needs new products. Their business model needs to be revamped and polished. The brand already have a stream of existing contract manufacturers that they can work with.
Where the global automotive industry is heading is where Lotus should be. Technology developed and derived by Lotus for high powered cars which include Formula One could be commercialised for the more popular models for the masses. It is time to monetize all that technology being developed.
This and what should be expected of Proton should be laid out in the open. After all, DRB Hicom now is carrying the responsibility of the national car project, first rolled out in 1985. Proton should not remain as a ‘rebadger’. With the clout of the international motor industry, DRB Hicom is expected by many to infuse better technology and design for new Proton products be developed and launched.
This is actually a more demanding deliverable for Dato’ Seri Haji Mohamed Khamil Jamil and Dato’ Lukman Ibrahim. They not only now got to make good of Al Bukhary Group’s monies in Proton but also have the responsibility to propel the national car project to a higher level. After 27 years, it is what the simple expectation of Malaysians towards Proton.
The magic they did to turn around and place DRB Hicom where it is now in such a considerably short time would now be the benchmark what they could do for Proton and Lotus. Now that they also have the indirect support of the Federal Government, they must make good for this task and defeat the skeptics in their own words.
If they need to be lunged, then be it. They have to start to lunge Lotus, immediately. They have to lunge the legacy of Collin Chapman and make it big enough, for the sake of Malaysia’s pride. After all, Lotus and Proton were award winning badges.