It's always a crummy time to get fired, but if you're Dany Bahar, the recently ousted head of Lotus Cars, you might have found yourself breathing a sigh of relief last week when the parent company's new owners — DRB-Hicom Berhad— told you to pack your things. There's only so much adversity a single huckster can take, even if he is an inexhaustible former Red Bull executive and Ferrari marketing whiz, equipped with the requisite masters' degrees in total bullshit -- advanced and applied — that such postings demand. But all tap dances, no matter how good, must come to an end. So, too, all tap dancers.
For remember, following his 2010 appointment, the Swiss-born Bahar swiftly lit the fuse on his own demise, blowing everybody's mind in a bad way by announcing a boldly mad plan at the Paris Auto Show to grow and so rescue Lotus by recasting it entirely, a grandiose blueprint for world domination by the venerable but often rickety English sports car maker that was as ambitious as it was ludicrous.
The imaginary Lotus lineup of 2015Announced then were plans for five new higher-end models to be rolled out in short order, over the course of three, then five years, the biggest Lotus product assault in history. Not just big but big -- all of these future machines save one was going to tilt the scales at 3,500 lbs or more, Lotus revealed. Blithely failing to observe the company's central animating principle - the brand-defining commitment to light weight at all costs that dates all the way back to its birth in humble circumstances sixty-four years ago — Lotus touched a third-rail article of its faithful's faith and Bahar's pillory could begin in earnest.
From the start, few believed his plans, like them or not, bore even the faintest connection to any reality that was ever going to happen. The cars outlined in his grand vision drew little from the existing parts bin at Lotus, which raised cost concerns, which, in turn, raised fundamental plausibility concerns. Among them was the strong risk that Lotus' wild expansion was headed for epic underfunding. Building sports cars and luxury coupes to compete with the best that Porsche, Ferrari and the sporting models other luxury makers can offer was not only going to take time. It was going to cost billions and the growing reticence of Lotus' former owner, the Malaysian government, (formerly the biggest stakeholder in Proton, since purchased by the conglomerate DRB-Hicom) to lose (or, if you prefer, invest) money was not encouraging. Neither entity has been known for its deep institutional commitment to extreme English sports cars.
Nor was the aid and assistance of the international banking community, hard on the heels of its recent near collapse, ever likely for Lotus. Bankers might traffic recklessly in hard-to-understand derivatives and pointless indexes of imaginary unicorn futures but the concept of propping up struggling automotive enterprises, no matter how worthy or fabled, hasn't been their thing for a long, long time.
Slammed on the substance of his plan, Bahar soon found himself also under fire over questions of style, and, somewhat unreasonably, for his failure to successfully make the case for his plan. Isn't expecting someone you're already holding responsible for creating a bad plan to then be held responsible for hawking it successfully a form of double jeopardy?
The marketing effort was not well-executed, doomed even earlier than one might have expected by a tone-deaf foray into the world of creepy Hollywood parties and corporate celebrity worship, including one shindig that exhumed the person of Sharon Stone and dragged out and together all of the battling Baldwin brothers, capturing as if in a National Geographic documentary, classic B-, C- and D-list celebrities in their canapé-filled, native habitat with Bahar in the role of a heavily-accented Marlon Perkins. A glitzy, purportedly edgy Lotus-sponsored style magazine and other overtures to the fashion world did not move the needle much, either, scanning not hip as desired while, at least to this old Lotus hand, (I bought my first, a 1969 Elan roadster, in 1982,) an affront, and kind of weird.