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Lotus Cars prepares to hire Lutz, Purves as advisers, sources say

Tue, 29 Jun 2010

Lotus Cars Ltd. is poised to tap former General Motors Co. product guru Bob Lutz and retired BMW executive Tom Purves to advise the British niche carmaker on a five-year turnaround plan.

Lutz, who left GM as vice chairman two months ago at age 78, has had discussions with Lotus but hasn't received a formal offer, two people familiar with the situation said.

Purves, 61, said in a telephone interview that he “would be happy” to be involved, but his talks with Lotus aren't final.

“The goal is to make a contribution to projects of the future--improving the quality, the product offerings and the operations of the company,” said Purves, who led BMW in North America before becoming CEO of the German automaker's Rolls-Royce unit. “It's exciting, and there is no question it is a great brand and has a good future.”

Lutz and Thomas Hofmann, a spokesman for parent Group Lotus, declined to comment.

Deep experience

The addition of Lutz and Purves would allow Lotus Cars CEO Dany Bahar to tap a combined 90 years of industry experience in his bid to boost worldwide sales to 8,000 in 2015 from about 2,500 cars last year.

“Our aim is to raise the Lotus brand equity back to its rightful place as it existed in the 1970s when it competed with the likes of Ferrari, Porsche or Aston Martin,” Lotus said in an e-mail to Automotive News. “Maintaining the unique Lotus DNA is crucial, but with more relevance, greater efficiency and even more sustainability than we have had in the past.”

Group Lotus is owned by the Malaysian carmaker Proton.

Bahar, a former Ferrari sales chief, joined Lotus in September. He has since brought in managers from Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin and the German engineering and design company EDAG.

Lutz retired May 1 after steering product development at GM for most of the past decade. He also worked at BMW, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. during his 47-year career.

Purves was head of BMW U.S. Holding Corp. for nine years starting in 1999, leading the brand to record sales in the United States. He became CEO of Rolls-Royce in July 2008 and retired in March.

Proton bought Lotus in 1996. This month, Proton's third attempt in six years to collaborate with Volkswagen AG failed.

New model coming

Last week Lotus said it would show a new model at the Paris auto show this fall. It didn't provide details but did distribute a picture of historic Stonehenge at sunrise with the tease: “Dawn of a New Era.”

Lotus doesn't release U.S. sales figures. The company sold about 720 cars in the United States last year, according to estimates by the Automotive New Data Center, down from a pre-recession 2,522 in 2006.

Lotus says it has 48 U.S. dealers selling the Elise two-door roadster, which starts at $48,375; the two-door Exige coupe ($66,815); and the Evora coupe, which went on sale last month ($74,675).

GM owned Lotus from 1986 until 1993, when it sold the company to Bugatti International. The Lotus Engineering unit is also part of Group Lotus.

By Diana T. Kurylko and David Barkholz- Automotive News