Blog: Lotus visit
Dave Leggett | 31 July 2007
I took a drive up to rural Norfolk yesterday to see some people at Lotus. I got the chance to interview CEO Mike Kimberley who generously gave me quite a bit of time ahead of a flight to Kuala Lumpur. He was pretty candid. There's certainly a positive story to tell - a recapitalisation, international expansion, new models in the business plan and a fairly clear strategic direction on the engineering side (with much less of a role in working for Proton these days, emphasising independence - 96% of Lotus Engineering's work is now non-Proton, I was told).
While the precarious/volatile state of things with parent Proton is a sizeable background concern, I can't help admiring Lotus for sheer survivability and its ability to make its own vehicles at the same time as acting as an engineering consultant to others. And someone like Mr Kimberley is a safe pair of hands with his experience.
He had a few Chapman anecdotes, naturally, but he's not stuck in the past. Perhaps the main thing he has done is turn the company away from being manufacturing driven to being much more sales and marketing oriented. The overstocking problem that blew up in the US is now sorted out, he said, and some dealers there are now getting short of cars.
I also had a very interesting chat with the chief engineer on the powertrain research side - James Turner - about bio fuels. His basic point is that ethanol fuels can be rolled out relatively easily without the need for spending hugely with hydrogen/fuel cells - a revolutionary not evolutionary technology which comes with a host of technical problems - or imposing high technology costs for emerging markets (a problem with hybrids, also). And the oil companies will invest in more efficient ethanol technology that doesn't impact the food chain (the problem with using maize) if the market is there, he maintains. And there's the added possibility of methanol further down the road, too. I'll try and get some more on this subject for an article.
Here's a thought that's a little disturbing. If oil is a depleting resource (as the 'peak oil' people maintain) how long will it be before the military starts ring-fencing supplies for its aircraft (which I'm told don't do ethanol), further diminishing supplies for civilian use? Ten years? Five?
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