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.