Lotus and the Bugatti connection

The story of Rod Mansfield's appointment at Lotus is intimately linked with the fate of another great motoring name, Bugatti. He was appointed by Romano Artioli, an Italian businessman who for the last eight years has been struggling to revive the famous pre-War marque and who now also owns Lotus. In August Artioli fired Adrian Palmer, whom Mansfield replaced, and his finance director Andrew Tempest. Last week he issued a writ accusing them of trying to sell Lotus to the Korean car company Kia without telling him.

Artioli was one of many young Italians who watched the demise of Ettore Bugatti's company in the early Fifties with anguish. In 1987, after he had made a fortune selling Ferraris and Suzukis, Artioli bought the Bugatti name and assembled a team to design two supercars, the EB110 and EB112, which, it was hoped, would compete with other ultra-expensive models such as the Jaguar XJ220.

But by the time the pounds 300,000 EB110 was launched in 1992, the market for such cars had collapsed and only a few have been made (Michael Schumacher bought one and crashed it). Artioli, undaunted, bought Group Lotus the next year, believing he could integrate the two companies' engineering skills.

Lotus has done much better since then - the Elan went out of production in 1992, and its losses were absorbed by the company's previous owner, General Motors - but Bugatti's problems have piled up and creditors, including Giugaro, have demanded payment in Italian courts. A year ago Palmer and Tempest tried to organise a management buyout of Lotus to split it off from Bugatti. Artioli was furious, but since then he, too, has been looking for a saviour - either to buy Lotus or to inject funds into the whole company.

Lotus was almost sold this March to 21 Invest, an Italian finance company owned by the wealthy Benetton and Bonomi families. A member of 21 Invest's consortium was Kia - which Artioli did not, apparently, know. He also, allegedly, did not know that the deal would have given Kia an option to buy 21 Invest out after five years. When he found out he fired Palmer and Tempest, and issued the writ. They had already issued a compensation claim for their dismissal.

David Bowen

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