The Malaysian government has sold its stake in Lotus-parent Proton.

The Malaysian government has sold its stake in Proton - the automotive parent of sports car maker Lotus. The sale by Khazanah Nasional - a state-owned investment firm - throws the future of Lotus further into question.

Khazanah Nasional sold its 42.7 percent stake in Proton to car distributor and importer DRB-Hicom for $410 million. The deal is expected to completed by the end of the second quarter of 2012.

DRB-Hicom, which builds and distributes Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen vehicles, operates a total of eight factories, four of which produce passenger cars. However, DRB-Hicom is likely more interested in Proton's volume passenger car business rather than Lotus' high-end sports cars, leaving the future of the British automaker in question.

Earlier this month Lotus CEO Dany Bahar confirmed that the brand could be sold by Proton. No possible suitors have yet been identified, and it remains to be seen if any company will have interest in the niche sports car maker. Proton has never made a profit on Lotus during its 16-year ownership, and the brand remains well short of profitability targets.

Update: Despite Proton's new ownership, Lotus says it is confident that its operation will continue unchanged.

"As far as we are aware, this situation changes nothing for Lotus, Proton's support in our development remains very strong and our focus, as always, is on the delivery of the business plan," Lotus said in a statement.

However, Lotus unveiled a rather aggressive product cadence at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, with DRB-Hicom's interest level in seeing those cars come to fruition still unknown. Lotus has aspirations to compete in the big leagues with Porsche and Ferrari, but it would take a huge investment from Proton's new owner to accomplish that goal.

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