Team Lotus principals buy Caterham – confirmed

There is a rumour that Tony Fernandes has bought Caterham Cars… A quick check in Companies House reveals that Kamarudin Meranun and Anthony Francis Fernandes were appointed directors of Caterham Cars Group Ltd and Caterham Cars Ltd a little more than a week ago.

There is a glorious sense of balance in the news as Caterham Cars was one of the original Lotus dealers in 1959, taking over the garage that had been previously been owned by Anthony Crook, the man who had started the Bristol car company. Caterham owner Graham Nearn began to develop the Lotus Seven through a series of upgrades and promoted these by supplying the cars for the Prisoner TV series. Although Lotus was ready to stop production of the Seven in the early 1970s Nearn talked Lotus boss Colin Chapman into allowing him to continue to assemble and later manufacture the cars, so eventually Caterham grew out of Lotus.

In the 1980s Caterham began its first one-make championship, a trend which gradually expanded across the world to become the most successful one-make racing formulas in the world. The business boomed and the company eventually outgrew the original facility and moved to a new factory in Dartford, Kent. Nearn would eventually pass control of the business over to his son Simon but in 2005 the family took the decision to sell the business to Ansar Ali and Gideon Wigger, both former Lotus executives, with funding from Corven Ventures.

Fernandes has been looking for ways to move into the automotive industry and his plans with Team Lotus aimed to do that by a reverse takeover, with the revived Team Lotus ending up acquiring Group Lotus. As this became difficult when Proton decided to do its own thing with Dany Bahar, Fernandes embarked on a new strategy as Group Lotus says that it intends to desert its current place in the market in order to compete with Ferrari. Thus Fernandes intends to provide cars for the traditional Lotus buyers and to take the Caterham brand global, particularly in Asia, where a whole new audience awaits. It is anticipated that he will be looking for a partnership with a bigger car manufacturer in the future. And if Group Lotus fails it is quite possible that Fernandes will be there with a token ringgit to pick up the pieces, as he did when he acquired AirAsia from the Malaysian government 10 years ago.

In the meantime his plans for the Team Lotus brand continue to develop. A string of new companies have recently been established including Team Lotus Bikes, Team Lotus Hotels and several others.

80 thoughts on “Team Lotus principals buy Caterham – confirmed

  1. Hi Joe,
    Saw the rumours about this floating around during the week – interesting indeed.
    Any thoughts of a story floating around this morning about this years Turkish GP being the last?

  2. Finally an end to the Group Lotus v Team Lotus battle? Tony can take the money Team Lotus are going to win and re-brand his team!

    Good News

    1. No, it is not over yet. He is planning two brands: Caterham for road cars and Team Lotus for racing activities

  3. Turkey isn’t a waste of time!! I went last year, the racing was great! we stayed on the Asian side of the city so could leave the hotel and be in the grandstands in less than an hour! We’ll be going again this year, I for one will be sad Istanbul off the calender next year.

    I think race day attendance isn’t as bad as people think, it wasn’t far off Spa levels.

    Team Lotus Hotels? is this in addition to Tune Group Hotels?

  4. Ouch, talk about fueling the flames in the Lotus row, buying a lightweight sports car manufacturer. It’s a bit petty, but I love it! 😉

  5. Being a Caterham owner myself, I’m glad it’s someone like Fernandes who is a petrolhead and not some faceless money man taking over the reins of the firm. I wonder if Ansar Ali will continue to be involved as he is very much a hands on guy and is responsible for the well being of this distinctive car marque and its continued success. I sincerely hope he stays.

  6. Not bad, it took the combined F1 media less than 24 hours from Lotus saying “We’ve got a big announcement for you next week” to working out the story.

    1. D,

      Actually, you will find that some of us have been chasing this one for a while. If you look at this blog in December you will see that I was chasing the story back then but had not managed to pin down the brand that would be used. I am amazed that no-one in the last 24 hours checked Companies House to see if Caterham had been sold. I guess it just goes to prove the argument that most of the F1 press corps are either not professional journalists or cannot be bothered.

  7. Joe,

    Can you elaborate on your above comment, why is Turkey a waste of time for F1?

    I think track as such is OK, (as much as all new Tilke tracks are to be honest) racing on it is good.

    Racing vise (not talking F1 politics, finances, facilities etc) in my eyes Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi is more waste of the time than Turkey.

    I am fan of F1, racing bit of F1, political issues do not concern me too much as long as racing on the track is good.

    1. Ved,

      Turkey has no value to F1. No-one is interested. No-one goes to the races. There are no sponsors. It is a complete waste of time. Maybe in 10 years from now, when Turkey has developed more and has a different government it could be revived, but there is just no value in it right now.

  8. I just love this. Just goes to show that Tony’s heart ( as well as his head) are in the right place. More to follow! Bring it on!

  9. In addition, I know people say this quite regularly but it is worth repeating, a big thanks to you Joe for all your detailed information and reporting. Very impressive. Thanks.

  10. Joe,

    Agreed, so many unprofessional journalists out there! Some even suggest Team Lotus bought Caterham – complete nonsense – it’s TL boss who bought the company.

    Keep up the good work! I find your blogs very information and amazed by your in-depth analysis and knowledge.

    Thanks,
    Chee

  11. And yet another small British car manufacturer goes to the wall…
    Are there really any true British companies left operating?
    TVR, Russian owned I believe, all the big companies were swallowed up years ago by foreign corporations, now the small fish are being netted, soon the UK will be devoid of industry, business and identity. Sad. I agree if it has to be bought then at least it is by a fanatic. But how long before the costs incurrred will overshadow the retail benefits and the works get moved to Asia? Not long I bet.

  12. Well done Mr Saward!

    What intrigues me most is the Team Lotus Hotels/Jets/Enterprises/Bikes/Health Spas/Publishing/Studios/Private Military Contractor/Gentleman’s Club news ;o).

    Surely the registration of all of the above (well, not all of the above, I might’ve made some of those up) can’t be the action of a man who’s losing a Court-Case about being able to use the Team-Lotus name? If it is, it must be the biggest bluff in commercial history.

    I can’t help but think that this means Group Lotus have had their arse handed to them legally, which is probably no more than they deserve.

  13. Presumably this is what Tony was going to announce at Duxford on the 29th.

    I am a bit puzzled by the newly registered Team Lotus xxx compnies however, since the original Lotus v Lotus argument seemed to rest upon the trademark rights. These clearly showed that Team Lotus was the only usable name in F1 whilst it was for F1 only. GL held the rights to the other formulae. The newly registered companies clearly claim a much further reaching use of the Team Lotus brand.

    I wish Tony and Caterham well, (never my customer but a very interesting visit) I do trust that KAR 120C will be used in any world wide promotion. (I remember that Caterham bought the reg for posterity)
    (Please no one mention the appalling re-make)

    Presumably by now, if not long ago Joe, you have the full details of the court action,and it’s outcome. Any idea when we at the bottom of the pond will hear?

  14. KAR 120C I believe is now owned by the Nearn family who used to own Caterham but sold their interest back in 2005.

  15. Hi Joe, first thanks for the great reporting and insight into F1.
    Should we now refer to the Tonys organisation as the Team Lotus Group, or just plain Group Team Lotus!!

    Joe, I always thought you held some information back from this board. I took out a subscription for GP+ and I’m delighted and proved correct in my assumption.
    Keep up the great work.
    Alan

  16. Abuelo Paul,
    It’s one world. TF is about as British as you can get whilst being nominally something else. The empire took Britain to the world; now the world has come back. This is a good thing. Nationality is nothing more than an excuse for taxation anyway…

  17. How about the name “Team Caterham F1? Suppose this is a hedge by TF against losing the “Team Lotus” naming rights. He would have a legitimate car company (although not a huge one) with a name to carry on his F-1 team and other business interests under one banner. I certainly do wish him the best outcome of the court case, but one can’t help but wonder.

  18. I should have thought more before finishing the last post. Suppose he starts using the Caterham brand to establish his own “ladder system” for discovering young drivers for eventual F-1 consideration? I assume that Mr. Fernandes will also own the one make racing series under which franchises are sold around the world.

    1. Shanghai attracted 91,000 spectators this year. Turkey had 12 and three goats (and they came under the fence)…

  19. come on Joe tell us how you really feel abut Turkey :)…..

    This bit of news brought a smile to my face, Tonly F really seems to be bringing things full circle, being a fan of Lotus cars, I cant wait for TF to take over the company and bring it to its rightful place in the car market, proud but not overreaching.

    keep up the good work Joe

  20. Thanks for the confirmation on this Joe. Since I read this as a rumor on Autosport this morning my time, I kept checking your blog as I knew you would have the full story…great work.

    Regarding the F1 case, if Team Lotus win does this simply allow them to continue with the name or does it provide them with exclusivity? Does the current Renault situation then become an issue or would it only scuttle any possible future plan of takeover or renaming.

  21. Joe isn’t there a tale around the original lotus 7 and some classic Chapman scam with a strip-down article in Autocar or some such magazine to get around a tax attached to kit cars issued with build instructions?

  22. I wonder if there is any chance of resurrecting the “new” car that Caterham had designed in house. I wish I could remember the guy’s name, it was a bit of drain on resources and stood in a corner when I visited and as far as I know it never went past pre-production (just checked now and it was the 21) The Lola Caterham SP/300 LMS LMP1 and 2 cars look a bit tasty too!

    Hector, that’s a great shame because KAR120C is the epitome of Lotusness, the very characters remind one to check the keyhole for sleeping gas. In fact I think the car only appeared in the opening title sequence and during one episode, but nonetheless became inextricably identified with “The Prisoner”
    42

  23. Thanks for the insight, Joe.

    I’ve speculated for a while that Bahar’s doomed plans to move Lotus road cars upmarket to “compete” against Porsche and Ferrari left Caterham a tremendous opportunity to expand their range – after all, when Lotus abandons the current downmarket Elise for being too inexpensive for the new (imaginary) Lotus buyers, the Elise would be a great upmarket product for Caterham, and an absolutely perfect fit with the Caterham legacy – continuing the “buy the discontinued model from Lotus and keep it in production” business model!

    The only question would be if Bahar, Group Lotus, or the ones paying the bills, Proton, would allow Caterham (Tony Fernandes) to buy the Elise production line and rights, or if they would refuse out of spite.

  24. Well Joe, you’ve done it again. I must say it would be sad thing to see how a “modern Journalist” is schooled these days. You’ve once again proved yourself to be at the top of the heap. Thanks.

  25. Brilliant news about Caterham. I think it is awesome – and if the court case goes against them then it is Caterham Renault. Even so it is an excellent partnership; would be nice to see some organic growth from a race team and sports car company growing together and getting stronger.

    Real shame about Turkey; I agree with your arguments, Joe, except that Turkey is one of the best tracks in F1.

    China is terrible – marginally better than Valencia – but noone ever complains about it. It took the DRS, KERS, and tires to make it interesting. It was a great race this year but the track is terrible – the first set of corners after the SF straight is like a childs toy track – what were they thinking??

    Anyways, great work, Joe, thanks!!

    Hope to see you in Montreal!

  26. Not so confident about the Dany Bahar Show. If you can afford a Ferrari why would you buy a Lotus* ? Hard to believe that Proton and Lotus Group will succeed.

    Btw are the “new” Lotuses road cars still Lotuses ?

  27. Joe,

    Everywhere blog, news agency, etc that I read about formula one, the majority fans that watch from home enjoy the Turkish grand prix. It will be shame to lose the raise. While I do see the issues with it as a local spectacle, you continually seem to miss the point when people counter your “it’s a waste.” Step back and be objective, and not just hark on it. Formula one is a global sport, being watched by millions. Not all of us can make it to a race, and hell many probably never have. But we watch fanatically and I know I’ll miss that race, because it’s a real challenge and driver course. It has produced many memorable races. It’ll be sad to see it go because they couldn’t make it work on a local level, while it surely has worked on a racing and broadcast level with the exception maybe of sponsor billboards placard everywhere. But I don’t see people making a huge fuss about the huge stands in shanghai being used year after year to be words instead of seating.

    1. Elliott,

      The Chinese still pay for the race. And this year there were 91,000 spectators on Sunday. In Turkey they do not want to pay and the crowd is around 30,000. Who is to blame for that?

  28. Like AB and rpaco, I can’t help thinking that TF is jumping the gun a bit by establishing companies called “Team Lotus Bikes, Team Lotus Hotels and several others”.

    Given that part of Group Lotus’ beef with TF is that the temporary Lotus Racing (not Team Lotus) brand was only supposed to be used for racing, not even T-shirts, AND given that the original Team Lotus brand licence that David Hunt possessed was only for “racing activities”, it all seems a bit foolhardy to do that before the court judgement’s even been given.

    Unless of course, TF knows something that we don’t…although from the way he’s typing, I suspect Joe does as well but can’t yet tell us…

  29. Great bit of work from Fernandes, getting in to the perfect company to develop a sports car brand that has original ties to Lotus and can to pick up the pieces from the undoubtably doomed plans of Group. It also allows him to use the already successful Caterham racing series as part of his driver development program and it’s a good cheap way of taking the sport to the masses of asia. And the cherry on top is the safety net that if he should fail in court (and I really hope he doesn’t), he’s got a brand ready to go to put on the side of his F1 cars.

    Bravo Tony, bravo.

    And bravo Joe, on top of the game as always

  30. I’m more than happy to be corrected (and it wouldn’t be for the first time) but i’m of the understanding that B. E. aquired the promotional rights etc in return for stumping up the fine for the Cypriot affair. And then why not do bugger-all, allow the venue to fail and sell the slot to another. One can hardly blame the Turks for anothers alterior motive.

    1. Franklyn

      You are right about the rights. You may not be right about the promotion. He did cut costs and try to promote the event more but there was no help from the locals at all.

  31. Re: Chinese GP

    I went for the Chinese GP this year and it was absolutely packed. I figured it catered to alot of expats working in China, like myself. I was on a domestic flight to Shang Hai and there were a big bunch of us expats going for the gp.

  32. Hi Joe,

    Great reporting on this great news. Everything seems to be making sense now.

    1. TF has now a solid backup plan if TL naming battle loses/get dragged on

    2. TF could simply quit fighting it “for the goodwill of Mayalsian” and not being disturbed and continue with his great scheme of automotive masterplan.

    3. TL factory’s resources could be diverse to something which could actually makes money (R&D and manufacturing the new new Caterham) which their new wind tunnel and expanding facilities.

    4. Using Caterham to attacked the market void left by Lotus with the TL developed sportscar.

    5. Expanding EV market and compete with the likes of Tesla and Artega

    Now there’s no rush to fight for the GL and wait for it to be served for 1RM.

    Great plan!

  33. For someone who goes out of his way to emphasise how much he respects the Team Lotus name, Tony Fernandes isn’t exactly doing a bang-up job of it. I mean, bikes? And more to the point, *hotels*? And a quick check with Companies House also shows he’s registering the Team Lotus name in association with jets and merchandising companies. The way I see it, all of this planned expansion into other markets outside the sport lend credibility to the theory that Fernandes violated the licencing agreement with Group Lotus.

    It’s my understanding that Group Lotus terminated the agreement because Fernandes used the Lotus name outside the team. I haven’t seen a full explanation for this, but I did a little bit of digging, and I suspect the culprit is LR8. It took me a while to find out what it is, but LR8 – which stands for “Lotus Racing 8” – was an energy drink Fernandes was planning, the “official” energy drink of the team. It never went to the market, and it was only ever planned to be sold through the team. The Lotus T127s carried the LR8 logo (a design of the car) on that vertical fin in front of the sidepod.

    The last photo I can find of a Lotus carrying an LR8 logo was at Spa. By the time Singapore came around, it was a Rothmans-esque self-censored question mark design (I can’t find any side-on pictures of the car from Monza). The Belgian Grand Prix was on August 29th; Singapore Sepetmber 25th – so somewhere in the space of the month, something clearly happened. No explanation was ever given as to why LR8 was suddenly replaced by a question mark.

    Now, this is where things get interesting: the first sign that there was something wrong in the Lotus encampment came when Fernandes established Team AirAsia in the GP2 and GP2 Asia series. Lotus Cars went with sponsoring ART Grand Prix. A lot of people wondered what was going on if they were so cosy in Formula 1. The plans for both Lotus ART and Team AirAsia were released on September 21st, four days before the Singapore Grand Prix. Which we now know is the first recorded instance that Lotus Racing ran without an LR8 decal. Given that Group Lotus claim Fernandes violated their licencing agreement by using the Lotus name outside the team, that’s a *massive* coincidence. One that I’m not prepared to swallow.

    Joe, you say that Fernandes intends to keep Caterham and Team Lotus entirely separate from one another and take the Seven to Asian markets – but I’m not so confident. We’re just weeks out from a final verdict in the court case, and all of a sudden Fernandes purchases a small sports car manufacturer with historical ties to the car company he’s locked in the legal dispute with? And he does it in such a way that it is a week before anyone finds out about it? Come on, that’s another massive sequence of coincidences that have to stack up on top of one another. Too many, if you ask me. Especially since Fernandes is the kind of guy who loves to make big statements to the world (and small ones, which he dresses up as big). Maybe it really is Fernandes’ intention to take the Caterham Seven global (and I applaud that – it’s a fantastic little car) … but you can’t deny that it’s also a convenient out in the event that he does lose the court case against Group Lotus.

  34. This seems to be quite an elegant solution – I think it will gain Fernandes & co respect.

    Bristol Cars mentioned in the piece entered administration in March, but has thankfully been bought by a Frazer Nash company. The display at the Airbus/100 yrs of flight family day last September was great.

  35. As a Lotus fan and S1 Elise owner i.e. the original pipe smoking cardigan wearing fan (even tho I do none of those things u get the point) this is fantastic news! Thank god for Tony and Team Lotus!

  36. Team Lotus Hotels? I’m not sure using the Lotus name for non-racing related activities beyond a few souvenir knick-knacks is an any way a good idea. Still, clever of TF to buy Caterham. He certainly seems to have more business nous than the Group Lotus management.

    1. AG

      Tony is very rich and successful, perhaps you should look at his ideas and try to do soemthing similar rather than wondering if they are a good idea?

  37. @Prisoner Monkeys

    LR8 was never released to market and is a red herring.

    The issues related to T-shirt sales (which is not going to go down well in court) and the Junior Lotus Racing WSR team.

  38. Joe, I am speaking as a F1 fan, not a business person. The hotels idea might work, it might not. Frankly, TF can use the Team Lotus name to promote anything he wants, it’s his right. Whether that will attract more fans to the team remains to be seen.

  39. just checked up on Tony. It seems he was educated in Epson near Caterham in the ’80’s so must have had an eye on this small specialist company for ages.
    He is also a trained accountant, so guess he will be clever with cash, perhaps a bit more so than that Dany Bear who seems to have no idea what he is doing at the moment.

    Will will see Caterham taking over Lotus in the future? Now that WOULD be ironic.

    Poor old Colin must be turning in his grave! But the core to all this road car business is that Lotus is and has always been a manufacturer of small specialist sports cars but never been a Ferrari competitor. Caterham’s brand is strong enough to be placed in Formula 1 me thinks. But where does that leave the road cars? Autocar has reported already on the chance that Caterham will buy the Elise body and a third tier car alongside the 7 and new one (whatever its called)

    1. Carbuffsouth,

      Maybe Colin would be thinking: “At last, someone who gets what I was on about?” Why is that most people think anything new is bad?

  40. @Prisoner Monkeys – “For someone who goes out of his way to emphasise how much he respects the Team Lotus name, Tony Fernandes isn’t exactly doing a bang-up job of it. I mean, bikes?”

    “TL Bikes” ummmm … they have existed in the past – I have ridden one – OK a Lotus Bike not a TL bike but ….

    Again OK, not a motor bike (if you were in that direction), but a very clever carbon fibre mountain bike. To be more “definative” the location was Silverstone, the Coys Festival, We were there with an Aston Zagato (silver, red trim) and I spent 2 delightful afternoons “racing” the TL bike, the Aston Martin bike (yes AM!!) and a bike made by – sorry I forget – up and down the paddock.

    It was at the time that sports car manufactures were getting into “life-style” products. Mark you a AM bike at over 6000UK them (over 10 years ago) was a bit rich … but that was a fun weekend especially when I think about who also jumped on a bike ummm wont tell … Those were the days.

    The car (not mine but a friends) was for sale so we took it to the festival. Not only did we race mountain bikes but I remember sleeping in the marquee we had over the Aston. On the Saturday evening (about 23.00) an aquaintance appeared in her Merc. – 1930’s immaculate etc. been in many films and the Merc. books – she had a friend looking to buy a “sports car” – friend loved the Aston – but to seal the deal we needed wine. We had the wine but no cork screw – All hail the AC Owners Cub – corkscrew to hand a few more bottles .. all drunk illluminated by the headlights of a 1930/s Merc 500 SL.

    As said those were the days

  41. Joe

    I don’t see it as the fact it is bad because it is new, rather that it a name of heritage that is being attached to ‘lesser’ things as a gimmick. Probably the reverse of selling the naming rights to a football stadium.

    The Team Lotus name is an old and known one in F1 circles so I suppose people don’t want to see it being ‘used and abused’ to bring a quick buck.

    That is not my view. This is not Team Lotus of old. Back then, the only drinks companies in F1 were alcholic and simply sponsors. F1 today is about a business, and Tony is using a name he has aquired to build a brand, turning the team from a simple F1 franchise to a globally recognised brand, bringing people to the sport. You would hope that by doing this, people will look into the history of the team too.

    Lets not forget everyone that Fernandes no longer has the backing of the Chapman family. Team Lotus is his, and his to do with as he pleases. A Team Lotus Hotel – I would stay in one if it was F1 themed! Lets face it, if a team can use its F1 operation to launch a car, why can’t a team use its name to launch a bike, or other related items, products and services.

    1. Phil C,

      Things change. Team Lotus is a brand. There are some who argue that the modern Bugatti is not related in any way to Ettore Bugatti, but that is not the point. The brand is evocative, and it is building extraordinary cars. Things move on. Getting credibility when you buy a brand is an important. Fernandes did that with the Chapman Family. The fact that they later changed allegiance may end up doing them more harm than it did Fernandes. It was an unfortunate place for the family to be caught, but at times like that one must make the right decision. A lot of people in my world think that they made the wrong choice and thus their voice now has less resonance. The only way to truly see the impact of all this is to wait five years and see where everyone is at that point.

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