Lotus to build two new cars
PAUL HILL, EDP BUSINESS EDITOR
07 March 2009 06:30
Multi-million pound plans to build two new Lotus cars in East Anglia have been given a twin vote of confidence - from the car-maker's Malaysian owners and the British government.
The EDP revealed earlier this week that Lotus had been told it was both "too big" and "too small" for a share of the £2bn promised to the British car industry by Lord Mandelson for research into greener motoring.
The firm was said to be too large to access British government support, and not big enough for government-backed loans from the European Investment Bank.
But Group Lotus chief executive Mike Kimberley revealed last night he has now been assured by a senior Whitehall official that Lotus is eligible for aid.
The green light from Whitehall is a boost for both Lotus's carmaking operation and pioneering engineering consultancy in Norfolk - and came a day before executives from its parent company Proton arrived in the county.
The EDP understands the Proton executives have also kept faith with plans to develop two new Lotus models in future, including a new Esprit, despite the uncertain economic climate.
Group Lotus chief executive Mike Kimberley declined to discuss the detail of the meeting with the Proton executives, but said the parent company had shown "tremendous support".
He added that the government's change of heart on funding was prompted by an intervention by South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon - and the EDP.
"Whereas previously we were told that we were too big and too small, thanks to Her Majesty's Government, Lotus has now been accepted as eligible for funding support from the European Investment Bank," Mr Kimberley said.
"One of our senior directors is negotiating on that front."
It is understood that the European Investment Bank will offer aid to car markers for projects worth at least £25m.
Mr Kimberley added: "We're really very pleased and thank the government and Richard Bacon, who was instrumental. I'd also like to personally thank the EDP for its support."
Lotus employs more than 1,000 people and has more than has been at the forefront of green engineering in recent years, including building a zero emission electric car for Tesla.
Faith was also shown in the car maker's green expertise last summer by awarding it a share of two contracts to develop a zero emission London taxi cab by 2012and work on a more environmentally friendly executive vehicle.
The Lotus Evora, which made its debut at last year's London Motor Show and was on show in Geneva last week, was meant to be the first of three new models in a five year business plan.
The return of Mr Kimberley - who was Lotus chief executive in the mid-1980s - three years ago has seen a £5m loss
become a £2m annual profit.
Production at Hethel is about to increase from 44 cars a week to 54 by the end of March and 88 a week by July.