It was a good try but now that the sportscar market has contracted so significantly – no thanks to the Asian economic ‘flu – it no longer makes business sense to assemble the Lotus Elise in Malaysia for regional distribution. As such, Proton is closing down the special line that was set up in 1997 and sell only cars imported from the UK factory.
The cessation of Elise assembly is an unfortunate case of timing. When the plan was initiated, the idea was to produce it at a lower cost using more locally-sourced components. But the economic crisis threw a ‘spanner in the works’ and whatever optimistic numbers had been projected could not be realised. And without the necessary volume, getting local suppliers interested was also difficult.
It is believed that some 150 CKD (completely knocked-down) packs of Elise were initially imported and it has taken a while to sell that batch. Considering that demand worldwide for the Elise was very high, it is surprising that Lotus UK could even set aside so many units for Malaysia but then again, Proton is a major shareholder with 80% equity so its influence was obviously considerable.
Another factor which makes the project less attractive is the weakened ringgit. Back in early 1997, it needed only about RM4 to get one British pound; today, it takes almost RM6 which obviously makes any CKD packs purchased more expensive even before local assembly (it is unclear if Proton managed to get any special tax concessions for the Elise from the government).
At under RM200,000, the Elise has been a very attractive buy considering its exclusivity. But at current exchange rates and when imported from UK, the price could jump up to RM280,000 which is quite a hefty pricetag. So if you can pick up one of the last local Elises, it might be a good investment and for those who already own one, the value should go up by next year!
Although requested to comment on the development, Lotus Cars Asia-Pacific declined, explaining that if there is any official statement, it will be issued as a press release from the company.