An Elise model was displayed at the official arrival ceremony for Lotus. [China Daily]
The British company that makes the Lotus sports car officially arrived in China last week, but it first had to figure out a local translation for its brand as there are cars already on the road that carry the Lotus nameplate - Lianhua in Chinese.
Existing Lianhua L3 and L5 models are made by Zhejiang-based domestic bus and car manufacturer China Youngman Automobile Group Co Ltd.
The company has cooperated with the engineering arm of Group Lotus since 2006 to produce cars with the badge Youngman Lotus, or Qingnian Lianhua in Chinese.
Yang Cheng, PR manager for the newly established Lotus sales company in Beijing, told China Daily that Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering are independent subsidiaries of Group Lotus plc.
One makes and sells luxury sports cars and the other offers engineering solutions to Lotus and other car manufacturers, Yang said.
He denied Chinese-language media reports of a trademark dispute between the company and Youngman. "For us, we want to have a more global brand image, just like what Lexus, Infiniti and Bentley have been doing in China," he said.
Yang explained the company eventually adopted the Chinese name Lutesi, which has three characters that comprise a sound similar to Lotus, but has no meaning connected to the flower.
Lotus also needs a name to establish a new image in the Chinese market to differentiate it from the low-priced Lianhua cars made by Youngman.
Youngman's Lianhua cars generally sell for about 100,000 yuan, while the Lotus sports car goes head to head with Porsche and Ferrari.
Group Lotus was acquired by Malaysian automaker Proton in 1996.
The first model co-developed by Proton and Lotus Engineering was the Gen-2 model on which Youngman based its Lianhua L3 and L5.
Huang Zhiqiang, spokesman for Youngman, said the company will continue its relationship with Lotus Engineering on more models including cars, SUVs and MPVs in accordance with the original agreement.
After making exaggerated claims in marketing campaigns that Youngman's products have "the same heritage as Britain's Lotus", Huang vowed the company will now clear up any confusion and release a distinct strategy for Youngman Lotus in the next month.
Zhang Lichen, CEO of Symphony Lotus Ltd, the authorized distributor of Lotus in China, said he is confident that over time people will know the authentic UK brand and appreciate it.
Zhang said Lotus plans to develop about 25 dealerships in China in the next three years.
Three of its models - the Elise, Evora and Exige - will be on sale starting from October at the latest, the company said.
"Niche brands like Lotus are keen to seek new opportunities in China since no other markets has such big space for development", said Zhong Shi, an independent analyst based in Beijing.
"Lotus products do have distinguished features. They are compact and nimble, which may suit the congested roads in China," Zhong said.
But he noted British automotive brands as a whole have a weak image to most Chinese, so the company faces an arduous task to revive the brand.