An assembly hall sits rusting on a large factory complex in eastern England, surrounded by a vast expanse of green, productive farmlands. The forlorn structure is a reminder of the latest failed attempt to revive Lotus, a specialist sports-car maker and engineering powerhouse.
In its heyday, Lotus was revered for lightweight racers. The company's engineering talent alone was so well respected it developed a successful consulting firm with clients that included General Motors, Aston Martin, and Tesla. But consumer tastes changed. When sports cars gave way to SUVs, Lotus suffered.
Under an ambitious plan hatched in 2009, Lotus started building the new hall in anticipation of producing an expanded lineup of five new models. But the financial crisis and global recession got in the way, and Lotus's foreign bankroller didn't want to plow any more cash into the project. No new cars appeared, and sales continued to plunge. Work on the hall stopped dead.
In a sign of how bleak things had gotten, Lotus's British network of dealers sold an average of just 11 cars per month in 2012.
Now there are signs that things are turning around. Over the past three years, Lotus has been selling closer to 30 cars a month in its home market. Revenue is up, thanks to a combination of cost cutting and sales of higher-priced, limited edition models. Last month, the company said it was on track to be profitable for back-to-back years for the first time since the late '90s. CEO Jean Marc Gales has nursed the company back into the black, if barely, and he has reason to be optimistic.
Lotus is about to be rescued by the same Chinese billionaire who bought Volvo Cars, just in time to help it maneuver the challenge of trading after Brexit. A controlling stake in the company of 51 percent has been sold for £51 million ($65 million) to Li Shufu's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, giving Lotus a deep-pocketed parent.
"This is fantastic, the best thing that could have happened to us," said Gales, who joined Lotus in 2014. The deal, announced in June, is expected to close this month.