The Lotus Press Release disaster

Just in case you missed the black and gold train wreck in the last 24 hours…..

Lotus are under pressure. The Five Year Plan from the 2010 Paris Motor Show didn’t resonate that well with a public that preferred the idea of one or two brilliant cars over what many saw as a pipe dream of five new upmarket cars in five years.

The Malaysian government recently sold its 43% stake in Lotus’ corporate parent, Proton. Perhaps understandably, there’s now a bit of conjecture out there as to what the new owner’s plans for Lotus will be. Questionable ownership stability/support and unheralded vehicle planning are not happy bed partners, as I’m sure any Saab fan can understand.

Today’s PR train wreck started with a bit of innocent fun on the part of the jesters over at Sniff Petrol. They produced a funny, satirical graphic featuring Lotus CEO Dany Bahar’s face superimposed over the body of “Bagdad Bob”, proclaiming there are no problems at Lotus. See it at that link or with the press release, below.

Anyone who reads Sniff Petrol, or listens to the Gareth Jones on Speed podcast, knows that the crew involved are motoring (and Formula 1) fanatics of the highest order. Those same people also know that Sniff Petrol will mercilessly take the piss at anything without fear or favour. Their efforts are merely jokes but what makes them extra-funny is that they often bear a close resemblance to the truth (just like Ralf Schumacher’s racing career). So Sniff Petrol had a little fun at Lotus’ expense. Big deal. They do it to a different manufacturer every month.

When you read the reaction from Lotus, it seems (at first) as if they were happy to play along. It soon becomes evident, however, that this minor provocation was the straw that broke one particular camel’s back.

Lotus put together a “press release” that apparently was sent directly to vehicle owners first, before being published – along with the image from Sniff Petrol (unbelievable!)on the company’s official Facebook page.

Here’s the release in full:

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story….

Take a little look at what we found online. Don’t you think it’s funny? We do. We had a good old giggle. After all, we love a bit of self irony, just as well really. Although it’s funny, this one’s not accurate but then again, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? The inconvenient truth is – surprise, surprise – we have never said that there are no problems at Lotus.

So whilst lots of people obviously feel the need to comment on Lotus’ current situation in the absence of proper facts or evidence, we can’t ignore these particular mistruths any longer even if we would like to, so we have decided to turn a negative into a positive and use this hilarious piece of ‘art’ to set the record straight regarding the status quo at Group Lotus and try to return a little stability to a fast changing situation.

False rumour #1: Dany Bahar is no longer CEO of Group Lotus.
Fact: Rubbish – Dany Bahar still is.

False rumour #2: Dato’ Sri Syed is no longer Managing Director of Proton.
Fact: Again rubbish. He still is.

You can thank good old Tony Fernandes for these two. Don’t take everything he tweets too seriously – perhaps he’s still frustrated about owning Caterham instead of Lotus and the fact that he fights HRT and Marussia instead of Mercedes and Ferrari in F1.

And whilst we’re on the subject of jokes – do you know the latest F1 joke? Mike Gascoyne, Caterham Group’s Chief Technical Officer, has gone missing. Why? He’s looking for the 30 to 40 points he predicted for the last F1 season. Funny.

Speaking of F1: It seems that one special so called ‘independent’ source is at the root of the lion’s share of damaging rumours and misleading stories. The delightful Joe Saward which leads us nicely to….

False rumour #3: Joe Saward is JUST an independent journalist.
Fact: He is an active Director on the Caterham Group Board.

And unlike some, we don’t want to get too personal, so we’ll leave it to you to judge how ‘independent’ his stories about Lotus are.

False rumour #4: Group Lotus is no longer involved in F1.
Fact: Lotus F1 Team and Group Lotus have reshaped their commercial relationship earlier this year. The new governance agreement signifies the continued commitment of Group Lotus to the team and the sport.

Group Lotus’ branding and marketing rights and subsequent activities remain unaffected by the new agreement until at least 2017. Alongside continued branding and title partnership status, Group Lotus is also the exclusive master licensee for all Lotus F1 Team merchandise.

The new agreement was reached following Group Lotus owners Proton providing team owners Genii with a £30m loan which is repayable within three years. In order to secure the loan Genii used 100% of the F1 team’s assets as collateral meaning that under the conditions of the loan agreement Proton have been given full title guarantee to all plant, machinery, show cars, computers, office and the Lotus F1 Team headquarters.

In addition Proton retains the rights to purchase 10% of the F1 team. Another 10% share option will be activated if the team default on their loan obligations with Proton.

Again we leave it to your judgement how ‘bad’ Lotus’ current situation in F1 is. And speaking of bad situations…..

False rumour #5: Group Lotus is going into administration.
Fact: Rubbish. The takeover of our parent company Proton by DRB-HICOM couldn’t have come at a worse time, but up until that point Proton was (and still remains) fully committed to our five year business plan to create jobs and to expand the factory and business. With the takeover process the funding has been restricted and DRB-HICOM is taking time to understand what to do with the business. DRB-HICOM is currently in the middle of due diligence of Group Lotus and there have been and continue to be positive discussions between Group Lotus senior management and senior management at DRB-HICOM both here in Hethel and in Malaysia. At no point has DRB-HICOM indicated to Group Lotus that it intends to put the company into administration. The over-active rumour mill is seriously damaging our business reputation, image and credibility but it is what it is.

The simple fact is, and we haven’t denied this – Lotus is going through a very difficult phase at the moment but we are showing true fighting spirit every day in trying to keep this vision alive. This is also a fact – no matter what people outside of Lotus may say or tweet or blog.

I think “Wow” is the word you’re looking for.

To be honest, I can sympathise with Lotus to a large extent. The situation facing their PR department is one that’s not unfamiliar to people who have worked with Saab PR.

You have a company struggling to advance. You have a loyal following that wants you to do well in accordance with a rich heritage. You have a media landscape that is more prone to mocking your recent efforts rather than taking them seriously.

What to do?

I’m not completely sure what the right answer is, but I AM pretty sure it doesn’t involve a petulant, gossiping, snooty press release via an official Lotus PR outlet that makes someone at the company look batshit insane.

Please understand that this is an official statement from Lotus on a corporate PR outlet. Unless there’s a rogue staff member at play here – in which case the FB post would have been removed and an apology issued by now – this statement had to be approved by someone high up in the PR tree, possibly even in the executive leadership team.

As I said before, I can sympathise with Lotus’ situation. Working on Inside Saab during 2011, I was constantly trying to come up with ways to describe what the company was trying to do to save itself, stories that would represent the situation honestly and combat some of the tabloid style material that appeared in the press at the time. It was relentless and the frustration was enormous. There’s only one way to alleviate it, however, and it’s not up to the PR department.

The company has to deliver.

Saab had to deliver and history will show that despite unceasing efforts on the part of those responsible for the company, that Saab couldn’t deliver. So the reports continued, as did the damage to the brand.

With regard to Lotus, I can’t think of a single motoring journalist worth their salt who sincerely wishes them harm. I can think of a few who enjoy the opportunity to take a sensationalist stab at them in order to further their own publishing efforts. They’re akin to those who would stop and take a photo at a car crash. But anyone seriously into cars would want to see Lotus succeed into the future. Some may not have much faith in current management, but they want Lotus to hang in there and succeed.

Lotus’ job is to absorb the reports and let time (and hard work) tell the fate of the company. They might want to respond to a few reports from time to time, but in a mature and factual way. The best response, of course, is with continued product development.

Lotus has issued a public statement today that sounds emotional, bitter, petty and incredibly immature.

Their customers are reading it! Imagine you’re a potential Lotus buyer, ready to sign for a vehicle in the next days/weeks. How would this make you feel? Would you think they’re trying to sort out their future, or that they’re getting too involved in petty spats and name-calling over a rich man’s sport that has little direct connection with the actual products they build and sell.

Every statement a company makes in public has the potential to either build or tear down a company’s brand – even if it’s just a little at a time. This particular statement has been roundly panned and for good reason, too.

“Turn a negative into a positive” – ?????? I bet Lotus wish they could have the last 24 hours to do it all over again. They would have definitely done it differently.

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8 Comments

  1. I think GM had a false rumor section on their website before they went bankrupt. One of the false rumors GM refuted was that they might go bankrupt. So see, this false rumor thing has been done before.

    Just a thought.

  2. I am glad the people at Saab could keep their heads cool when the storms were raging. Even if I can totally understand Lotus. If I’m not mistaking, Saab even recently got a prize for being one of the best at communicating last year.

  3. It strikes me as a bit odd that Lotus are even in F1 given their overall financial status, precarious as it is. Hope that thing don’t turn pear-shaped for them too. Then again GM don’t have their claws in Lotus’ backs so things might turn out OK.

  4. Lotus build some of the finest and most technically refined cars in the business. But that, obviously, does not make them meet critique with a refined approach but instead sink down to spoiled brat wiseass level. I pity them.

    I can see most staff at Lotus going “-Noooo they didn’t!”. I wonder how many at Lotus that can stand behind these words from management.

    Cheers/Tom

  5. This piece is absolutely stunning, and not in a good way. This is clearly one of those pieces that should have been deleted as soon it was completed, never to be seen by anyone except the obviously very frustrated author.

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