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Caterham rescued by Lotus boss

Caterham has been 'living on borrowed time' says managing director of Caterham Cars Australia, Chris van Wyk.

The bare-bones British sports car company is now in the hands of Tony Fernandes, a Malaysian businessman who owns Air Asia Bhd as well as the Lotus grand prix team. There is even talk that Fernandes could re-brand his F1 outfit as Caterham if he loses an ongoing dispute with Renault F1 over use of  the Lotus name in Formula One.

There are obvious implications from the buyout in Australia, as Caterham has only sold three cars since 2007 and faces an end to its  operations in 2013 because the cars are not available with the ESP  stability control that becomes mandatory across the country from 2012.

"We're living on borrowed time at the moment. Hopefully this means  good things," the managing director of Caterham Cars Australia, Chris van Wyk, says.

"Caterhams tells me it will not bother with this traction control nonsense because they don't need it for Europe. But I surmise that Caterham will have more support and investment in  future. Everything I'm hearing about the new ownership is up a level.  In that case, the chance of them doing ESP may improve."

Caterham has never been a big seller in Australia, partly because of  relatively high pricing for a car which is basically unchanged since  it was created by Lotus founder Colin Chapman as the Lotus 7 in the 1950s.

The Caterham is a no-frills, open two-seater that is often sold  as a kit car - something not possible in Australia - in other countries. A price cut this year has generated more interest but van Wyk is still  disappointed by the lack of interest in the cars.

"It's really a Claytons franchise at the moment. I've only sold three  cars since 2007," he admits. "The so-called 'clubman' inquiry in Australia is at the $30,000 level. And we're not there. It's very frustrating, because I love the brand  and the product. I thought we would get a few sales now we're $55,000 or $60,000 driveway, but it hasn't happened."

Fernandes says he intends to make Caterham - which only sold 500 cars  in 2010 - into a global brand in the exclusive sports car class of  brands such as Aston Martin.

Caterham, named after the London suburb where it was originally based, employs about 100 people at a factory south of the British capital and  posted a $2 million profit last year. But van Wyk has seen one positive from the Fernandes buy-in, and a new Caterham that's painted in the same colours as this year's Lotus F1  cars driven by Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen.

"I have a very good prospect that wants a car in the Lotus livery. So  that's a positive," van Wyk says.

Paul Gover is a former CarsGuide contributor. During decades of experience as a motoring journalist, he has acted as chief reporter of News Corp Australia. Paul is an all-round automotive...
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