There's something about following in the footsteps of Colin Chapman that makes accomplished businessmen bite off more than they can chew. It happened to former Red Bull and Ferrari executive Dany Bahar, who just settled with Lotus having been fired for over-ambitiously misallocating funds during his tenure as CEO. And it appears to have happened to Tony Fernandes as well.
Fernandes is known in the transport business as the man responsible for Air Asia, a successful budget airline out of Malaysia, and to soccer fans for taking over the Queens Park Rangers FC. But in 2010 he got into cars, as well. He started the Caterham F1 team in 2010 (then racing under the Lotus banner) and bought Caterham Cars the following year, merging the two (alongside its applied technologies divisions) into the Caterham Group and subsequently dismissing its longtime CEO Ansar Ali.
Under Fernandes, Caterham embarked on an ambitious expansion plan that saw it broaden the Seven range, launch the SP/300.R track car with Lola, enter into a partnership with Renault to develop the new Alpine sports car and introduce the AeroSeven concept with production ambitions. Caterham even got into motorbikes (not unlike fellow Lotus racing offshoot Kodewa) and talked about building crossovers and city cars as well. But things haven't exactly been going according to plan. Caterham's partnership with Renault has dissolved, Lola went bankrupt, and the F1 team, now in its fifth season, has yet to score a single championship point, let alone a race win or podium finish.
It seems that it could all have been too much for Caterham and Fernandes to handle, as rumors surface that the latter is putting the former up for sale. According to reports emanating from the UK and Malaysia, Fernandes is seeking about half a billion dollars for the entire operation, including Caterham Cars, Caterham F1, Caterham Composites and Caterham Technology. We're awaiting confirmation from the company on the prospect of its sale, but we could hardly blame the company for falling short of the ambitions Fernandes held for it. Now it just seems a matter of whether the next Chapman-in-waiting can set more realistic goals.
UK, 27th May 2014
Despite press rumours to the contrary, Caterham Group is not for sale.
The reports circulating this weekend are factually incorrect.
It is, however, true that the Group is actively searching for additional investment as it seeks to fulfil ambitious plans to develop.
The shareholders of the Group, co-Chairmen Tony Fernandes and Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, remain wholly committed to the Caterham brand.
Fernandes confirmed: "Caterham Group is not for sale. We love what we build and we are always looking for further investment. This is no different to how we started AirAsia. Yes, we are constantly challenging ourselves and making decisions on everything from the structure to projects within the Group. That is normal business. That does not mean we are selling."