David vs. Goliath. Marty McFly vs. Biff Tannen. These are but a couple of epic stories in which arrogance paid off very well for the underdogs. When faced with a difficult situation, David and Marty countered their adversaries head-on despite the odds against them. Granted, Biff was an idiot who couldn't hit the brakes in time (twice) and Goliath sounded like he may have been the confirmed definition of stupid.
However, the same formula for winning arrogance can also apply to automakers. Specifically, ones that are strapped for cash, have limited product, and lack a long-term vision. Either a struggling automaker, large or small, gets its act together to survive or they don't. That simple. And as we witnessed at last September's Paris Motor Show, Lotus displayed five amazing cases of arrogance that will not only allow them to survive, but also breathes new life into the troubled company.
Now, many have been carrying on about how the proposed new lineup defies everything that company founder Colin Chapman believed in, specifically his "simplify then add lightness" motto. It's a fair argument to make but Chapman was also a lunatic, albeit a brilliant one. Fast forward to today and Lotus Cars is now run by CEO Dany Bahar, who received his training at Red Bull and Ferrari. These are two companies that have been extremely successful not just in racing, but also in marketing.
Everything from Ferrari World to the method of distributing free cans of Red Bull at clubs to pump up the crowd (in turn to get them to spend money on overpriced non-free cans) are brilliant tactics that continue to pay off extremely well for both. The arrival of Bahar in 2009, who left his position as the head of global branding for Ferrari, saw the potential in Lotus to become so much more while retaining Chapman's philosophies. After lining up the $750 million investment from parent company Proton, Bahar dived in immediately.
The plan features an entire lineup of cars, ranging from a new Elise, a reborn Esprit, the Porsche 911-fighter Elan, the folding hardtop Elite, and the four-door Eterne. All will feature the latest in engineering performance technology, luxury, and handling. It's clear that Bahar fully intends for this product onslaught to succeed. How exactly? Raw talent. Lotus has brought in some of the best of the best in the industry, such as Donato Coco and Wiebke Bauer, both from Ferrari. Coco designed the 458 Italia and Bauer was director of licensing and merchandising.
Stephan Pathenschneider was brought in from Mercedes-Benz AMG as director of production. Wolf Zimmermann, also from AMG, is now chief of vehicle engineering. Italian design talent and German engineering know-how combined with Ferrari merchandising experience. Sounds perfect. Instead of allowing Lotus to crumble like other great marquees, they are now aiming squarely at the best in the business, such as Ferrari, Porsche, and Aston Martin, with the right amount of "we'll take 'em all on" attitude to make it happen.
A bit arrogant? Totally, but a possible alternative could have seen some Chinese automaker simply buying the Lotus name and applying it to a family sedan or hatchback. I wouldn't put it past them for a moment. Want proof? Just look at MG today under SAIC ownership. So is Chapman now rolling in his grave? Doubtful. He once said that "money is how we keep the score in motor racing nowadays." The same thing also applies to road cars, as his engineering brilliance alone wasn't enough to keep the road car business alive forever and he knew it.
Surviving on three very niche models, as is the case currently, won't work. In 2010, for example, only 2,800 Lotus's were sold globally. Perhaps a bit of arrogance is the main key for Lotus to defy the odds. Money and talent too, but the future King David and Marty McFly required neither. Let's hope that arrogance remains the greatest currency.