The consortium behind Team Lotus today confirmed that it has acquired the Caterham road car business.
Team owner Tony Fernandes has indicated that “we will link the Formula 1 team and the car company close together. Then we will look at building technology links and marketing links.”
He said that adding the road car platform to the F1 programme is where he wanted to be 12 months ago with Group Lotus, but that came unstuck due to a clash with Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar. “Now it’s our baby and we will build from a solid base into something in the same vein as Air Asia,” he said.
It has emerged that Fernandes was approached by Caterham’s owner Ansar Ali, who is a former Lotus executive, shortly before Christmas last year about buying the company and the deal was done quickly. Ali had previously led a management buyout of Caterham in 2005. He will stay on in his existing management role at the company.
Caterham will continue to build the iconic 7 but will also add new models to the range. There has been a lot of talk about the spirit of Colin Chapman, the Lotus founder whose widow and son aligned themselves with Group Lotus at around the time Fernandes and Ali started negotiating.
Fernandes is trading off the heritage of Team Lotus, which he bought from David Hunt last Autumn and not the heritage of Lotus cars. He believes that Group Lotus, which is a sponsor of the Renault F1 team, does not have the right to trade on Team Lotus’ heritage.
Ali is very careful to say that the Lotus heritage is not important to Caterham, “My honest belief is no, the legacy doesn’t make that much difference to Caterham. But the historical relevance of the Seven is important.”
He added that, “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the (Team) Lotus connection was attractive to both of us. I think the credibility is there and it reinforces the providence and the raison d’etre of the acquisition.”
Although the use of the Lotus name is the subject of a legal battle, which Fernandes’ side launched last year against Group Lotus and which could be resolved with a judgement in the next couple of weeks, Fernandes is now moving into road car territory via Team Lotus Enterprises.
“Caterham has a unique place at the heart of the motoring world,” said Fernandes. “As well as being proudly and staunchly British, it has an enviable and uniquely unblemished reputation within the industry for performance, handling and engineering excellence.
“Caterham Cars has remained wholly faithful to Colin Chapman’s philosophy of ‘less is more’, and the DNA of the original Seven can still be traced to the newest additions to Caterham’s product offering.
“It is already a successful business with sales across Europe, Japan, Australia and the Middle East, and under the guidance of the existing management team, we now have all the ingredients and the launch pad to further evolve that spirit and take Caterham to new exciting horizons with innovative products and greater global brand exposure.”