KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia
Malaysian national carmaker Proton said it has suspended the head of its loss-making British sportscar business after Proton's new owner complained about his conduct.
Proton said in a statement late Monday that Lotus Chief Executive Dany Bahar has been suspended pending an investigation into the complaint by parent company DRB-Hicom Berhad. DRB secured control of Proton in January in a 3 billion ringgit ($951 million) takeover.
The automaker didn't elaborate but the move fueled speculation over the future of Lotus, which was bought by Proton in 1996 to bolster its technological know-how.
Proton's new chairman Mohamad Khamil Jamil said in the statement that DRB-Hicom would not sell Lotus as it can support Proton with its global presence and engineering expertise.
"We acknowledge that Lotus can provide value to Proton," said Khamil, who is also DRB-Hicom managing director. "Both Proton and DRB-Hicom will continue to review the existing business plans and financial position of Lotus in taking Lotus forward in the immediate to medium-term."
Analysts have said DRB's takeover of Proton could boost the struggling caremaker but a hefty cash injection required at Lotus under a five-year development plan could hamper its turnaround.
Khamil said DRB-Hicom sent a team of local and international consultants to Lotus last month to conduct an operations and legal audit.
He said the review was pertinent because of a 270 million pound ($423 million) loan that Lotus had taken at the end of 2010, for which Proton gave its corporate guarantee. He didn't give details. Other Proton officials were not immediately available for comment.
Khamil said he recently visited Lotus's plant in Norfolk and met with British government officials, who had agreed to consider reactivating a 10 million pound ($15.7 million) growth fund to support Lotus's vehicle development plans.
Once the king of the road in Malaysia, Proton's fortunes have dwindled, with its market share falling to around 30 percent from more than two-thirds just over five years ago due to greater competition as Malaysia liberalized its auto market.