Investors' advice to Proton: Sell Lotus

There's a lot of smoke going on over at Lotus, but we still have a while to wait before we get the first evidence of fire: the new Lotus Espirit and it's in-house V8 won't be here until 2013. On the other side of the world, there's a fair bit of smoke and fire happening at Malaysian automaker Proton, which owns Lotus.

The Malaysian government controls Proton and has been investigating a partnership for or sale of the company for a couple of years, but despite its efforts, it hasn't made any deals. The 28-year-old automaker has been losing large chunks of market share, and the government feels that sale to a well-funded global player would be the best solution to insure Proton's long-term future. Although it has named its chosen candidate for a purchase, it isn't clear if anyone has made any serious overtures to that end.

Outside observers believe the first thing Proton should do is get rid of Lotus. The mass-market Malaysian carmaker has almost nothing in common with the tiny, English niche sports car producer, and has done nothing but throw money at Lotus' carmaking arm since 1996 (Lotus Engineering, the technology consultancy, is profitable).

Proton has said it has no intention of selling Lotus. However, if Proton is sold then the new owners could reverse that stance. And if Lotus were unloaded, that puts everything CEO Dany Bahar has planned in serious doubt.

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