Lotus Fires CEO Bahar After Investigation of Conduct
Lotus’s board of directors made the decision with immediate effect, the Hethel, U.K.-based company said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Aslam Farikullah, a DRB-Hicom executive who’s been helping run Lotus since Bahar was suspended last month, was named chief operating officer.
DRB, controlled by billionaire Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, is tightening its grip over Lotus after inheriting the British company through its purchase of Malaysian taxi-and-sedan maker Proton Holdings this year. Bahar, who became CEO in 2009 after being recruited from Fiat SpA (F)’s Ferrari, was suspended last month amid a five-year plan to turn around Lotus.
Bahar’s turnaround plan “hasn’t been that successful and Lotus is still losing money,” said Chong Tjen-San, an analyst at HwangDBS Vickers Research Sdn. in Kuala Lumpur. Lotus “shouldn’t be worse off,” he said.
Shares of DRB fell as much as 0.8 percent in Kuala Lumpur trading, compared with the 0.3 percent drop by the benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index. The stock traded at 2.41 ringgit at 12:01 p.m., poised for the lowest close since June 5.
Lotus didn’t disclose details of the investigation triggered by the complaint and Proton said today that it won’t make further comments for the time being. Bahar didn’t respond to an e-mail sent to his Lotus account.
Aslam is one of three executives from Lotus’s parent companies put in charge of day-to-day management at Lotus during Bahar’s suspension. Lukman Ibrahim and Mohd Khalid Yusof were the other officials from Malaysia.
Aslam, who graduated from England’s University of Bath, worked as an engineer in the U.K. for 18 years before returning to DRB in Malaysia in 2007, according to DRB’s annual report for the year ended March 2011. He was chief operating officer for a year at two DRB units related to trucks, buses and automotive manufacturing before moving back to the parent, where he headed the manufacturing and engineering division, according to DRB. He then became chief of vehicle manufacturing projects, a division formed in 2010, according to DRB.
Lukman, a chartered accountant, was a Proton executive for 17 years before joining DRB in 2008 as group chief of finance, DRB said in the annual report. Lukman was later promoted to chief operating officer at DRB.
The maker of the Elise sports car, Lotus has struggled to compete against Porsche AG and Ferrari in Europe, has hung on to relevance in the auto industry partly because of its decades- long expertise in designing lightweight frames.
The Lotus Elise, at 2,010 pounds (912 kilograms), is the lightest performance car sold in the U.S., according to Santa Monica, California-based Edmunds.com. Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) has relied on Lotus chassis designs since 2008 for its Roadster sports car.
DRB, which in March said it may sell Lotus if it doesn’t meet performance targets, said last month it doesn’t plan to sell the British carmaker.
In 2010, Bahar spearheaded a five-year turnaround plan to increase sales in emerging markets -- especially China -- and introduce five new models, starting with the Esprit at the end of 2013, according to Proton’s annual report for the year ended March 31, 2011. Bahar said in December that Lotus could break even by 2014.
Lotus sold 1,985 units during the year ended March 2011, according to Proton’s annual report. That compares with Ferrari, which boosted global deliveries by 9.5 percent to a record 7,195 cars during 2011, led by sales in the U.S. and China.
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