Dany Bahar’s Lotus Fantasia

Dany Bahar: Misunderstood visionary or public enemy number one? 

The Great Behar - photo via Jalopnik
The Great Bahar surrounded by his pet unicorns – photo via Jalopnik

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. 

Photo via Lotusforums
Photo via Lotusforums

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?

"Can we have a bit less wind machine there fella's?"
“Can we have a bit less wind machine there fella’s?”

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.

The brilliant Lotus Evora - not part of the Great Behar's plans
The criminally under-rated Lotus Evora – not part of the Great Bahar’s plans

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 Elan was the first of the gang to die
The Elan was the first of the gang to die

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?

They really do exist

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “Dany Bahar’s Lotus Fantasia”

  1. Looking at the dream garage lined up behind Mr B, his hair artfully tousled by the Norfolk wind, it’s interesting that not one of them makes me think “if only …..”. They’re competent, but they just seem a bunch of generic sportscars, which I assume was the intention. Even if you accept that Behar’s intentions were serious, and he really did think he could push Lotus into the mainstream market, it’s an object lesson in not underestimating people. Sure, he might have persuaded a few lower level Kazakh playboys and playgirls that a budget Ferrari was on the way, but the investors and suppliers he needed to actually realise at least a couple of his models would have been unconvinced, in no small part because of the size of his ambitions. Had he come up with just a couple of concepts there might have been some credibility, but this is one case where the Big Lie bit the perpetrator’s arse.

    1. My Dear Laurent

      We, at DTW, have always assumed that only three people in the United Kingdom speak French, and that none of them has an interest in cars. Except you of course. On the off chance that isn’t true, or if someone is reading this in a polyglot nation, please accept our apologies for any offence caused. I shall, of course, chastise Eoin at our next editorial meeting.

  2. Admittedly, I wasn’t as critical of Bahar and his plans in the beginning as I should have been. His grand plan only every made any sense as long as one believed that Bahar knew something the rest of us didn’t – but I was willing to go along with it, as Hethel’s unofficial line was that the very concept of Lotus cars as we had known them was not going to become profitable anymore.
    The total neglect/marketing sabotage of the then-recent Evora, on the other hand, was something I could never really fathom.

    But today, of course, we’re being told that Mike Kimberley had actually left the Lotus house in order, and that everything would be well if the course as established by Colin Chapman’s favourite had been followed. I’m not quite buying that view either, but it doesn’t really matter all that much anymore: Jean-Marc Gales has a lot of work ahead of him.

  3. In Mr Bahar’s defence, it has always read as if he was headhunted by Proton to sort out Lotus’s problems. If your credentials are in marketing, you might hesitate to apply cold for a job running an engineering-led company but, if you are approached by someone and asked to do it, that’s a bit different. Such flattery is hard to resist and the next thing is, you find yourself sitting in your office thinking ‘merd ….’ sorry ‘shit, now I’ve got to come up with some ideas’

    However, if that’s the case, whereas Mr B has long since departed, the naive people at Proton who thought to appoint him are still in overall charge.

    1. Actually, I suppose that’s not necessarily true, since I remember that Proton was bought by someone else before Mr Bahar departed. So maybe he wasn’t the only one whose services were no longer required.

  4. Where is the Evora now? I always liked it for its Toyota V6 and excellent dashboard. It´s not my type of car though. I must review the magazines to see what they said at the time. Thanks for this interesting insight into what is perhaps, apart from Hillman´s much-vaunted product explosion, the most exagerated story of baseless optimism of recent times. And Alfa, of course!

  5. Thinking aloud, I wonder whether Dany ever understood how misguided his “branding” was? Ferraris and their ilk aren’t really bought by an enthusiast- they are far too large and flashy for that sort of thing: the typical new Lamborghini buyer would also no doubt feel that the strain of their seams as their creativity tries to unleash itself and be quite happy never to leave a place where Lamborghini rules apply- but not Lotus folk. The Elise is the new 7, continuing on in ever more iterations as a simple, fun device bought by people to enjoy for what it does rather than what it says about them. To further Sean’s point, who on earth at Proton would have approved such a misguided idea? Lotus does need new product though, wouldn’t a new Esprit with a Prius hybrid system tuned for performance be interesting?

  6. I suppose the Evora’s lack of success sums up why Proton looked to Bahar. Maybe they realised that a company that built its reputation on building fine handling sportscars by raiding other people’s parts bins needed to change its image radically, so Bahar made some sense. Justly or unjustly, the Evora’s Toyota engine maintains that parts-bin image and, at that price, there aren’t enough loyal, middle-aged Elise drivers who’ve put on too much weight who need one.

    Colin Chapman would likely have done some deal with Toyota whereby the engine became modified enough to justify calling it a Lotus engine. That is important if you want to charge decent prices. For myself, though I know the Ford origins of their V12, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable about Aston’s overt use of Mercedes as a future engine supplier.

  7. Dany’s arrival at Lotus was said (possibly by Dany himself) to be due to him being approached by Proton at the Paris motor show. He had had a pretty good run of success by then, promoting inline-skating, then marrying the daughter of prominent headhunter Bjorn Johannson, Landed the Red Bull job and after allegedly brokering the Ferrari engine deal with Torro Rosso F1, he ended up working directly with and reporting to, the fragrant and ever cheery Jean Todt at the Ferrari toy shop.

    Now, Jean Todt is married to Chinese/Malaysian actress and producer Michelle Yeoh who has links to the Malaysian Royal Family (she’s a show-biz royal family, big cheese in Malaysia, which contradicts Todt constantly referring to her as ‘mon petit camembert’) . Members of The Malaysian Royal Family have a financial interest in Proton and a romantic interest in Proton’s expensive adopted child Lotus Cars. Lotus Cars were at that point floundering while under the control of…….Kevin Bacon! Ta-Dah!

    Kevin Bacon aside, that was the word on the street in Hethel when I worked with Lotus. I was charged with selling their cars. I was not doing this long when Dany’s pet unicorn turned on him and ran him through! DRB-HICOM Bhd swooped in and as stated under Malaysian law no monies were to move between Proton, HICOM or Lotus Cars in any direction for 3 months! Ouch! It was a tough time for new cars as there was no production, no marketing, no manufacturer support and no cars. It was also the most enjoyable experience I have had in the motor trade. Their cars are unique in in pure feel.

    The Elise is an economical, useable everyday car that makes you feel like a racing god while just going to the shops. The Exige is Porsche GT3 performance for half the money and you won’t get called a wanker by passers-by (in fact the most insulting thing anyone has ever said to me while driving a Lotus was, ‘What is it mate?’) The Evora is nothing short of a dynamic masterpiece. I have never driven a better car at any speed, on any surface. It has its flaws of course but the lion share of the making of the greatest everyday sports car ever made is there. Drive it and you will not be thinking about kudos-less Toyota engines..If you think I am exaggerating gentlemen go and drive one (or ask Eoin!). You will be doing yourself a disservice if you do not. On top of which, Kevin Bacon owns one. What could possibly go wrong?

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