Dany Bahar: Misunderstood visionary or public enemy number one?
It’s probably safe to assume that disgraced ex-Lotus boss, Dany Bahar believes in unicorns. It remains the only reasoned assumption following his abrupt career at the storied Sportscar brand. Appointed in 2009, Bahar took Lotus on a journey into the heart of darkness, edging them closer to the abyss than at any time in their chequered sixty three-year history.
The early signs were there for those prepared to see, none more so than those in possession of the autumn 2010 edition of Lotus Magazine, part of the Great Bahar’s plan to re-position the marque as an upwardly mobile challenger brand – one destined to a shorter run than perhaps intended. The 162 pages include photo portraits of British Icons which feature such luminaries as Kate Moss, David Bowie, Richard Burton, Prince Harry, Wayne Rooney and Amy Winehouse. In amongst the fashion spreads, something about sexy cocktail waitresses, and a lifestyle piece on Estonia’s hottest interior architect were essays on Lotus’ motorsport history and of course, a lavish preview of the five Lotus concepts Dany was pulling out of his magician’s hat. This was to be, in the words of the Bahar, a ‘work of reading glory’ – not just a magazine, but a ‘lifestyle choice’. It now stands as a lavishly produced cenotaph to the Great Bahar’s inglorious reign.
His editorial makes for unintentionally hilarious reading. There he is, smiling beatifically at something (not us) on page 16, like some perma-tanned, be-suited Yoda – (which I suppose to some extent, he was). Here Bahar invites you into his world, where “Lotus rules apply.” I’m confused Dany, tell me more: “It’s a stylish world, sexy, upbeat, unique, energetic, and bursting at the seams with creativity and Joie de vivre.” No wait, there’s more. “It’s what you always wanted but you didn’t even know it. Perhaps you didn’t even realise you were missing something, but take care, once you’ve stepped inside our world, you’ll never want to leave.” Crikey, where do I sign?
Bahar is said to have spent a good deal more time in the land of fairies and elves than he did at Lotus’ Hethel base so it’s tempting to picture him hurtling through the Norfolk countryside, Gatso’s aflash. But given his background, what could we have expected? From his time as COO at Red Bull, and his 2007 appointment as Senior Vice President, Commercial and Brand at Ferrari, marketing and licensing was Dany’s speciality. Of course Bahar wasn’t the first marketing man to run a car company, but he is probably amongst the shortest-lived. Lotus was and pretty much remains an engineering-led business. Their chief revenue stream was in consultancy – the road cars being a frustratingly and eternally unprofitable side-line. Their products were also on the periphery of dynamic brilliance, if under-appreciated outside of enthusiast circles.
Bahar did what he was good at, gaining Lotus copious amounts of column inches with his links to showbiz, music and youth culture. Meanwhile an enthralled motoring press bought the Bahar spiel, praising him as Hethel’s saviour. Few probably believed he would pull it off, but it was too good a story to ignore. The dissenters were camped on the sidelines – motorsport fans, Lotus’ long-suffering clubs and owners – many of whom had been around long enough to have seen several false dawns rise and fall throughout Lotus’ rollercoaster backstory. Whispers did emerge of Bahar’s lavish spending and tenuous grasp of realities. Yet, the press continued to peddle the Bahar miracle, several well-known organs who really ought to have known better giving him the benefit of doubt well beyond the point all credulity had snapped.
The eventual denouement catapulted Lotus into a crisis that brought it perilously close to ruin. Having spent millions on a monolith of merde, the reckoning finally came in the summer of 2012 when Bahar was dismissed pending allegations of financial impropriety. Both parties sued, settling out of court last year; Lotus emerging by far the worst of the two. Of course, some have suggested Dany’s ruse was merely an elaborate plan to hype Lotus’ market valuation prior to a sell-off. But even were this to be the case, the end result can hardly be deemed a success for either party.
2012 was Lotus’ annus-horribilus, when it looked as though DRB-Hicom, (Proton’s new owners), would cut their losses. Production came to a halt as creditors got restless and vultures began circling. Cars that had been ordered failed to be delivered, although in testament to customer loyalty, few orders were cancelled. Nevertheless, the damage to marque credibility was grave. Miraculously Lotus remained in business, and signs emerging from Hethel are positive with 2014 sales recovering to pre-Bahar levels. However, the journey back to viability will be long, rocky and far from assured.
Meanwhile, following an undisclosed settlement, Dany has highfooted it to another magic kingdom, in this case, Emilia-Romagna. ARES, his new venture, offers a vehicle customisation service to the credulous elite he understands so well. After all, you can’t say he doesn’t know his market. One positive that can be taken from this whole sorry business is that as far as the mainstream motor industry goes, Dany is toxic – inextricably linked to the near-demise of one of the great automotive brands. Not that this is likely to bother the great man himself – memories are short and his towering self-belief will undoubtedly propel him onwards. After all, why stop at unicorns?