The Lebanese love of loud engines and sleek curves has lured to its shores a classic automotive racing icon, Lotus. Lebanon is to be the brand’s launchpad into the flush markets of the Middle East, but by the admission of Group Lotus Chief Executive Officer Danny Bahar, “It’s going to be a challenge.”
A collaboration between Lebanon’s vehicle retailer Rasamn-Younis Motor Company (RYMCO) and real estate developers Zardman will bring to Beirut the first Lotus showroom in the Middle East. As any car enthusiast knows well, the arrival of Lotus means the challenge is on for them to take on Porsche, which is a long established and well-respected brand in the region.
“We spent a lot of time studying Porsche drivers, because they take a lot of things as a given,” said Bahar while talking to Executive. Lotus may carry the prestige of British racing heritage, but now that the not-so-glamorous Malaysian firm, Proton, owns them, their work is cut out to match the pedigree of their German counterpart.
“If you compare the 2012 and the 2009 Evora they are two different cars and we’ve been working harder and harder to get closer to the expectations of the Porsche driver,” said Bahar. Even if Lotus is striving to hit the mark that will win over the loyalty of discerning drivers, the group’s CEO is adamant that they are no copycat outfit.
“We are trying to have a differentiation strategy… The Lotus car will always be different,” he explains. What’s more he reasons that the lotus driver will get an experience at a price they would not find elsewhere.
However, in this regard there are conflicting messages coming from the firm. The 911 has carried the history and style of Porsche for near-on 50 years to which Bahar concedes, “You cannot compare. The Evora is to compete with the Boxter and the Cayman, not the 911.” But the Evora price tag of around $60,000 is encroaching what one would expect to pay to get the 911 off the forecourt.
“The price [for the Evora] is closer to the 911, the horsepower is closer to the 911,” says Baher, not to mention the speed and size are comparable to the 911, and yet we are told the car is competing with the smaller Porsche siblings.
As Lotus enters into the Middle East it is banking on the deep pocket of the region’s automobile enthusiasts to help lift global sales from the current level of 2,500 to 3,000 cars per year, past the breakeven point of 4,000, and into the profit making regions of 6,000 sales per annum.
“We decided three months ago to move to the Middle East and chose Lebanon as our base. I believe if we continue our aggressive strategy we should be able to sell 400 cars in the region every year,” explains Bahar. “We expect the United Arab Emirates to be the biggest market and Saudi Arabia and Lebanon look promising as well.”
To match the territorial expansion Lotus is pushing for a “total evolution of the brand” in the coming two to three years, including a radical change to the Evora. The flagship model currently has a Toyota Camry engine but Baher said, “In 2013 it will be one of the finest cars. We are even going to change the gearbox and so many other things. It will be a totally different car.”
This is exciting news for Lotus enthusiasts but it must leave any potential buyer wondering why buy an Evora now when next year “a totally different”, and superior, car will be hitting the tarmac.
Even if there seems to be a lack of clarity in the company’s strategy of attack, Lotus does create cars of distinction that inspire admiration from passers by and exhilaration in the driver. Indeed, in the Evora they have managed to build a thrilling and refined car.
While Lotus carries a legacy of sporting dynamism, the test is on to see if that spirit will deliver the company success in Lebanon and the wider Middle East.