Save Team Lotus     

Posted November 2010

The purpose of this site? Team Lotus's future, perhaps its very survival, is under serious threat. Not due to financial woes or lack of public support or any 'legitimate' reason. No, it's apparently down to the jealousy, greed and egos of certain individuals, no better reason than that.

In 1996 after the Malaysian government-owned car maker, Proton, purchased Group Lotus it was apparently shocked and devastated to learn that its acquisition did not include Team Lotus, the iconic Formula 1 outfit. Rather than accepting gracefully that it had made a mistake, Proton (with Group Lotus, which it now controlled) set about attempting to damage or destroy Team Lotus whilst simultaneously presenting Team Lotus's glorious F1 history as its own in an effort to convince the public that it was true.

In September 2010 at the Singapore Grand Prix it was announced that Lotus Racing, the new 'Lotus F1 team' on the grid this year, would from 2011 race as Team Lotus, thus returning the legendary brand to the F1 grid for the first time since 1994. The day after the race Proton issued a statement which was full of falsehoods and misleading assertions, apparently designed to thwart Team Lotus's return to the grid and, moreover, lay the ground for political and commercial pressures unrelated to F1 to be brought to bear on Lotus Racing in order to force it to 'hand over' ownership and/or control of Team Lotus to Proton and Group Lotus.

Proton's statement succeeded to the extent that it provoked much comment in the media and on web blogs which was ill-informed and inaccurate, thus leading to great confusion in the public domain which persists to this day.

So this Save Team Lotus site has the following aims:

  1. to assist in correcting the misinformation and clearing up the confusion by providing facts and evidence to the public;
  2. to demonstrate the likelihood that most right-minded and honourable people, once furnished with the facts, would deem Proton and Group Lotus to have shown themselves to be both unfit and unworthy people to become custodians of the great Team Lotus brand and heritage; and
  3. to Save Team Lotus by ensuring that it remains independent of Proton/Group (or indeed any other car manufacturer) and is allowed to return to F1 in 2011 with the existing F1 team based in Norfolk and controlled by Tony Fernandes and his partners.

So let's start by unpicking Proton's post-Singapore Grand Prix statement.

Please hover your mouse over the highlighted/underlined words to reveal Save Team Lotus's comments.

PROTON'S SEPTEMBER 2010 STATEMENT

In a statement released on 27th September 2010 (the day after the Singapore GP) Proton released the following announcement:

"Proton will support Group Lotus in taking all necessary steps to protect its rights in the “Lotus” name, including resisting any attempts by Mr. Fernandes or his companies, or any other unauthorised person, to use the “Lotus” name in the 2011 Formula 1 season.

"There is and always has been only one Lotus, the Lotus started by Colin Chapman. From the beginning Lotus made road cars and raced racing cars. Until 1994, Group Lotus, the road car manufacturer and Team Lotus, which operated the Formula 1 team, were in common ownership with common directors. In 1994, Team Lotus failed and Lotus has not raced since. Since 1994, David Hunt has claimed to have acquired assets of Team Lotus, including its name, from the liquidator. He has never raced as Lotus. Mr. Hunt’s attempt to acquire the name Team Lotus was ineffective. Group Lotus is the owner of all rights in the “Lotus” automotive brand including those relating to Formula 1.

"Last year, Tony Fernandes and 1 Malaysia Racing Team recognised this by taking a licence from Group Lotus to use the “Lotus” brand for the “Lotus Racing” team in the current Formula 1 season. With Proton’s agreement, Group Lotus has now terminated its licence to 1 Malaysia Racing Team to use the “Lotus Racing” brand in the 2011 and future Formula 1 seasons as a result of the flagrant and persistent breaches of the licence by 1 Malaysia Racing Team, which were damaging to the “Lotus” brand.

"Following that termination, neither 1 Malaysia Racing Team, nor any other company associated with Mr. Fernandes such as Tune Group Sdn Bhd or Team Lotus Ventures Limited, has the authority of Group Lotus to use any “Lotus” brand in the 2011 Formula 1 season. This includes the use of the brand “Team Lotus”.

"Group Lotus understands that Mr. Fernandes intends to rebrand the current “Lotus Racing” Formula 1 team to “Team Lotus” for the 2011 Formula 1 season. Mr. Fernandes indicates that Tune Group has acquired the rights to the name “Team Lotus” from a business formerly owned by David Hunt called Team Lotus Ventures Limited. Group Lotus believes these rights to have no proper legal foundation, a fact of which Mr. Fernandes was well aware when his company purchased them.

"Proton will support Group Lotus in taking all necessary steps to protect its rights in the “Lotus” name, including resisting any attempts by Mr. Fernandes or his companies, or any other unauthorised person, to use the “Lotus” name in the 2011 Formula 1 season.

"Dato’ Sri Mohd. Nadzmi Mohd. Salleh, Chairman of Proton Holdings Berhad and Group Lotus commented, “We believe the Lotus brand to be one of the most valuable brands in Formula 1 today. We are the owners of this brand, and will take all necessary steps to protect it. Tony Fernandes has no rights to use the Lotus brand in the 2011 Formula 1 season, and we will strongly resist any attempts by him to use our brand without our permission and will withdraw our sponsorship of the Lotus Racing team.”

"To put it simply, Group Lotus is everything Lotus. The fact that 1 Malaysia Racing Team entered into an agreement with Group Lotus to use the brand means that both Mr. Fernandes and 1 Malaysia Racing Team recognises and acknowledges Group Lotus’ rights," he added.

Now let's look at a few examples of how Group Lotus has over the past decade or so 'worn Team Lotus's clothes' in an apparent effort to enhance its own reputation and image. These efforts have certainly created confusion in the public mind and in some cases apparently succeeded in convincing people that Group Lotus was and is the very same 'Lotus' that won 13 F1 World Championships and 79 Grands Prix.

PASSING OFF

In day to day terminology passing off means:

  1. To offer, sell, or put into circulation (an imitation) as genuine: pass off glass as a gemstone.
  2. To present (one's self) as other than what one is: tried to pass himself off as a banker.

In the legal world it means:

A common law tort which can be used to enforce unregistered trademark rights. The tort of passing off protects the goodwill of a trader from a misrepresentation that causes damage to goodwill.

The law of passing off prevents one person from misrepresenting his or her goods or services as being the goods and services of another, and also prevents one person from holding out his or her goods or services as having some association or connection with the other when this is not true.

When you visit the Head Office of Group Lotus or Proton you are warmly welcomed with reminders of 'their' legendary Formula 1 legacy:

Group Lotus in Hethel, Norfolk

These two pics (right & below) show an entrance to Group Lotus's HQ at Hethel in Norfolk. The 'art' on the side of the white Proton Building was new in 2010. It depicts the 7 x F1 World Constructors Championships that Group has never won by showing the seven legendary Lotus F1 cars that Group never designed, built or raced. Top left is a Group Lotus logo, rather than Team Lotus, and bottom right (hidden by truck) is Group's dreamy boast that it has won 7 world titles. The other pic (bottom right) was how they greeted you until Mr Bahar's arrival in late 2009.

 

Confused?

Group Lotus, Hethel

Group Lotus, Hethel
Group Lotus, Hethel


Proton in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

And here are some pics of the foyer area in Proton's new head office building in Kuala Lumpur in November 2009. There wasn't a Proton or a Lotus road car, or any pictures of them. The only displays were of Team Lotus's glorious history. And the only event being promoted was the 'Lotus Showcase '09' at the Garden Mall, Mid Valley - which had already happened some months before. If you had had to guess whose head office foyer you had landed in, you could have given no first answer other than Team Lotus's.

 

Confused?

Proton

Proton
Proton

Group Lotus website

There is a section called 'Lotus Heritage' which gives an illustrated overview of what Group Lotus claims to be its history from 1948 to the present day. The introduction reads:

"Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman founded the Lotus Engineering Company in 1952 in order to build race cars. Use the timeline to experience the heritage; from the innovative Type 11 and the domination of Formula 1 Grand Prix racing, right up to the modern day Lotus Elise, Lotus has a fascinating and outstanding pedigree."

Confused?

Lotus

WIKIPEDIA

Group Lotus's entry on the Wikipedia website (in April 2010) was a veritable treasure trove of untruths and hugely confusing to the public.

It is claimed, for example, that Group entered Formula 1 in 1958. This despite stating that Team Lotus had been split off from Lotus Engineering in 1954. Yet is also claims (in the very same paragraph) that "the Lotus Group of Companies was formed in 1959. This was made up of Lotus Cars Limited and Lotus Components Limited which focused on road cars and customer competition car production respectively." No mention of Team Lotus, an F1 team or single seaters being anything to do with Group.

It also claims all the Team Lotus F1/single-seater technical innovations as its own, and that Group's last F1 race was in 1994. Yet David Hunt & partner acquired all the Team Lotus rights from the administrator of the Team Lotus F1 business, whilst neither Group Lotus nor any of its subsidiaries were in administration at that time.

Another extraordinary claim is that in April 2010 Lotus Racing (the Fernandes-led F1 team) held the legal rights to use the name Team Lotus. If that was the case, why were Proton and Fernandes both still apparently trying to buy those rights from DH & partners in April 2010? And why are Proton and Group now claiming that they own those rights - when did they buy them from Fernandes if he held the legal rights in April?

Confused?

NB It's accepted that the GL Wiki page may not have been created or managed by GL. But given GL's sensitivity to trade mark infringement it is not believable that GL were unaware of the content of the Wiki page which they could have amended at any time.

Elise brochure

Here's two pages from a brochure for the Lotus Elise, one of Group's most successful road car models.

Confused?

Elise brochure

Elise brochure

Limited Edition Lotus Elises

Over the past decade or so, since Proton's ownership, Group Lotus has produced a number of limited edition Elise models. Here are some of their official promotional shots. Presented by the same board of directors who told Team Lotus officially that Formula 1 does not enhance Lotus's road car image and sales, and therefore Team Lotus returning to F1 was not something that would be of benefit to Group Lotus.

Confused?

Lotus Elises

Group Lotus advertising - confusing or what?

Lotus Ads

Trade Marks

Group Lotus logos

Lotus Logos

Group Lotus has no rights whatsoever to use the Team Lotus logos

The division line was always that Group Lotus designed and built road cars (and occasionally raced them) whilst Team Lotus designed, built and raced open-wheel, single-seater racing cars.

Team Lotus logos

Team Lotus Logos

However Team Lotus has the full rights to use the
Lotus
logo on its F1 racing cars

Team Lotus was responsible for the Le Mans, Formula 2, Formula 3, Formula Ford, Formula 1, TASMAN and Indianapolis entries


Trade Mark litigation history

In 1996 Team Lotus applied for a Class 35 registration and Group Lotus opposed the application.

Group Lotus also took Team Lotus to the UK trade mark courts with applications for Team Lotus's UK trade mark registrations to be revoked on the grounds of non-use (for at least 5 years) in 1998, 2002, 2008 and 2010. Sometimes these applications were for more than one trade mark to be revoked. Group's applications were not successful.

Group Lotus initiated these hostile actions despite the fact that it is bound by a long-standing contractual obligation to provide Team Lotus with written consent to register worldwide the trade marks of Team Lotus and to remove from the register any Group Lotus trade mark specifications for single seater racing cars.

F1 cars called Lotus

Over the decades of racing in F1 Team Lotus accrued the unique common law rights to race a car in F1 named 'Lotus'.

As this practice went on for decades right under Group Lotus's nose without challenge by Group, they de facto consented to the practice many decades ago.

Thus it is difficult to understand on what grounds Group now assert that Team Lotus does not have the long-established right to use the trade mark 'Lotus' on or in relation to Team Lotus's F1 cars, and that in fact Group owns such rights.

Beyond common law on passing off and trade mark legislation - the contractual position

As Team Lotus has always been legally advised for the past 16 years, Group Lotus and Team Lotus remain under a long-standing contractual obligation proactively to distinguish themselves from one another so as not to confuse the public: that is a freely entered into obligation over and above the common law protection against passing off.

And, as referred to above, Group Lotus is also obliged by contract to support Team Lotus’s trade mark applications worldwide.

Why would Group have signed such arms length, contractual obligations if they already owned and controlled Team Lotus?

Why, knowing that they had to be careful not to reference Team Lotus's F1 heritage in any publicity material, have Group wilfully and overtly done exactly that for over a decade and still continue to do it? At the same time as they have done all they can, and continue to do all they can, to strip Team Lotus of its longheld UK trade mark registrations?

Group Lotus know all this, and if they do not then they ought to know it.

Sponsorship

From the mid 1980s until 1994 Group Lotus was a third party cash sponsor of Team Lotus.

Why would it have done this if it already owned and controlled (and would thus have been financially responsible for) Team Lotus?

From minor sponsor to "owner of all things Lotus" - in their heads!

It was only in 1994 that Group required high visibility branding (see photos below), previously having apparently accepted the reasonable view that the cars being called 'Lotus' and the team 'Team Lotus' was sufficient reward for their sponsorship pounds - they got better than title sponsorship billing for minor sponsorship funds, all through the good fortune of having a common founder.

branding

Most people would deem that a very good deal indeed. But even upgrading to high visibility for small money was not enough for Group, it seems, as they then progressed to 'borrowing' Team Lotus's history and reputation - its "goodwill" - without asking or paying, and then to trying to damage/destroy Team Lotus via trade mark litigation. Then they escalated their delusion and confusion of the public by issuing a nonsensical press release after the Litespeed Team Lotus deal for an F1 entry was announced in June 2009 (see below).

10th June 2009

Team Lotus and 2010 Formula 1

Group Lotus plc and its subsidiary Lotus Cars Limited, the manufacturer of the iconic Lotus Elise and global high technology engineering consultancy, are not connected or affiliated to, nor in any other way associated with the newly announced "Team Lotus" that has submitted an entry for the 2010 Formula 1 championship. Group Lotus plc will take all necessary steps to protect its name, reputation and brand image.

Lotus will continue to focus on the tremendous worldwide opportunities that exist for its core businesses. Lotus Cars has recently launched the tunning new Evora 2+2 global sportscar to great acclaim and deliveries to the first customers are imminent.

The company is pulling all stops to ensure production meets demand. Lotus Engineering, one of the market leaders in automotive green transport solutions, is currently working with many of the world's vehicle manufacturers on state of the art projects with plans of growth in its international targeted markets such as Malaysia, China, USA and India.

ENDS

One obvious question: what is this "newly announced" Team Lotus? The Team Lotus that joined with Litespeed had a history going back to the 1950s; the very same one Group had spent the previous decade attacking in the trade mark courts. For Group to pretend they had never heard of this "Team Lotus" seems disingenuous to say the least.

 

That press release seems even more nonsensical now, of course. Because just months later, having publicly backed Tony Fernandes into F1 Proton/Group then squandered a 3 month open-goal, exclusive period in which to buy or do some deal with Team Lotus, which would have given them their goal - control of 'all things Lotus', with Mr Fernandes entirely dependent on their licence to race in F1 as Lotus Racing/Team Lotus.

Then when they found out that Fernandes was negotiating a deal with Team Lotus they failed to persuade Team Lotus to re-open negotiations with them because Team Lotus had now given a period of exclusivity to Fernandes. So they waited until Fernandes did come to an agreement to buy Team Lotus and it was publicly confirmed in Singapore. The day after, they announced that all of a sudden they had remembered that in fact they had owned 'all things Lotus' all along.

Theft by stealth

So it's been a steady progression all the way from Group being a silent, and perhaps even grateful, minor cash sponsor of Team Lotus to the Proton statement at the start of this website which shows that Proton's and Group's ever more covetous and ever bolder behaviour has apparently allowed them to delude themselves into thinking they now somehow own Team Lotus and all its longheld, and expensively created and maintained, set of Formula 1 rights and glittering achievements. All without investing a penny or ever making any attempt at friendly or positive dialogue with Team Lotus. It seems analogous to attempted theft by stealth.

Any damage to the 'Lotus brands' is down to Proton and Group

That nonsensical press release? If, as Proton now claims, Group has always owned "all things Lotus", why did they not say so loudly in their June 2009 release and immediately launch legal action then, against relative pigmies Litespeed and Team Lotus? If Proton's claims are true, they would have crushed the pigmies in court and the current brand-damaging situation could never have arisen.

Instead, it would seem, they charted another course, the detail of which this website will not reveal at this stage, and it has now backfired.

Hence the desperate, last gasp strategy of ostensibly trying to con the world into believing they owned Team Lotus all along whilst behind closed doors in Malaysia trying to lobby powerful influencers to turn their delusion into reality one way or another, as we are led to believe.

How they can present themselves to Renault, and how they expect to present themselves to the F1 world, as an honourable company with clean hands is a mystery to this website.

It seems fair to say that the only reason the 'Lotus name' is being dragged through the mire, and perhaps the courts, is because Proton could never admit they did not acquire Team with Group in 1996 and they are now trying to claim that Group always owned it before then anyway.

Worse, they chose, without cause, to put their claims into the public domain and thus they, not Tony Fernandes or Team Lotus, are responsible for any damage this dispute causes to the 'Lotus brands'.

Summing up - for the time being

The above are just a few of the reasons why Save Team Lotus has formed the opinion that Group Lotus, under their owners Proton, are not fit and proper people to be custodians of the great Team Lotus brand and history.

Imagine for one moment that their plan to 'grab' Team Lotus from Mr Fernandes were to succeed:

How could one recommend a sponsor to people who have behaved like this?

How could they be trusted to keep the brand's good reputation at the top of the priority list?

How could the fans trust them for one moment? Conquered peoples tend not to trust their conquerors - or like them.

Trying to gain 'ownership' of someone else's property through foul means rather than fair, including wilfully misleading the world at large in official media statements, does not smack of sound judgment, responsible leadership or wise decision-making. Especially when the alternative in front of their noses is to sit back, spend/risk no money and allow Tony Fernandes's Team Lotus to provide 'title sponsor-level' F1 benefits through association that other companies must pay millions for.

All the big car companies are shying away from F1 spending, including now Renault, whilst minnows Proton and Group Lotus, neither of which are seriously profitable, are diving in with pockets bulging by all accounts - yet they have the 'free' alternative of letting Team Lotus take all the risks and investing their own resources in their core products of Proton and Lotus road cars.

As a commercial strategy, it seems unfathomable.

And in the hands of boards of directors who are also distracting themselves from their core business by investing a huge amount of time, money and effort into trying to 'sequestrate' a trophy asset they do not own and simultaneously convince the world they have always owned it, and expect to get away with it, is positively alarming and surely not in the best interests of stakeholders.

Do they really think this kind of behaviour is going to attract more F1 and Team Lotus fans into buying a Lotus or a Proton. They will more likely put off the very audience they're entering F1 to attract!

Save Team Lotus just doesn't get why they're doing it and why they're prepared to risk so much for it. We cannot see the commercial rationale, nor how they could get away with it in the English courts when there is so much evidence against them. Which takes us back to where we started: it seems it must be a matter of the jealousy, greed and egos of certain individuals.

 

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