Bernard Arnault Takes On Elon Musk With SPAC Deal to Take Lotus Public

(Bloomberg) -- A blank-check firm affiliated with Bernard Arnault, the world’s richest man, just reached a deal to take a potential challenger to No. 2 billionaire Elon Musk onto the public markets.

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Lotus Technology, the electric-car maker owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., said Tuesday it’s agreed to merge with L Catterton Asia Acquisition Corp. in a transaction that values the combined entity at about $5.4 billion. The private equity operations of Arnault’s luxury-goods powerhouse LVMH combined with the US investment firm Catterton in 2016.

Lotus Tech is a subsidiary of the British carmaking group that Geely acquired back in 2017. While Group Lotus is tiny compared to Tesla, it’s been steering away from combustion engines and has several all-electric models planned for the coming years.

Arnault overtook Musk as the world’s richest man last month — the first time a European claimed the top spot on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. LVMH is a passive minority investor in L Catterton, according to a spokeswoman.

Lotus Tech has been looking to go public since at least early last year. Management may have been encouraged by another luxury auto brand’s recent listing: Porsche AG pulled off Europe’s largest initial public offering in a decade when it debuted in Frankfurt in September. A week later, Porsche overtook Volkswagen AG as Europe’s most valuable automaker.

Geely and other owners are expected to retain an 89.7% shareholding in Lotus Tech after the SPAC merger. Geely’s billionaire owner Li Shufu also controls Swedish carmaker Volvo Car AB and owns stakes in Germany’s Mercedes-Benz Group AG and the UK’s Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings Plc.

Lotus unveiled its all-electric Eletre sport utility vehicle last year and plans to launch a rival to Porsche’s popular Taycan EV in 2023. Lotus Cars delivered just 1,710 vehicles in 2021, the most recent data available. Tesla, by comparison, delivered around 1.31 million vehicles last year.

--With assistance from Siddharth Philip.

(Updates with Arnault link in headline and first paragraph.)

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