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First look: Proton’s future breaks cover

Persona approach: The new generation Persona hatchback should be in Australia mid-year.

All-new Persona kicks off a model blitz by Malaysian car-maker Proton

14 Jan 2004

YOU’RE looking at the vehicle that Malaysia’s national car-maker Proton believes will establish it as a credible player on the international automotive stage.

These photos, obtained by GoAuto from a Malaysian source, show the front and rear of the new generation Proton Persona small hatchback.

Codenamed WRM (Wira Replacement Model), it goes on sale in March in its home market and should arrive here mid-year to contest the small car segment.

It replaces a car that has been on sale in Australia since the brand was launched in Australia in 1995, selling first as the Wira and then as the Persona.

This time around the Persona name will stay, but that’s about all that will be carry-over from the ageing and rather pedestrian current car, which owes its origins to ancient Mitsubishi underpinnings.

While the car will be all-new the price should be in familiar Proton territory. Although Proton executives aren't talking, it is tipped to kick off below $19,990 with a high level of standard equipment. Two spec levels should be offered.

That means the serious error made on the pricing of the Waja sedan, which arrived here at a base price of $27,990 in 2001 – although it was later reduced to $22,990 – will not be repeated.

An all-new exterior and interior have been executed under the leadership of Proton’s young and partly Austral-ian-educated styling chief, Damien Cheong.

Obvious features include the cutaway at the bottom of each headlight, a Mazda-esque trapezoidal grille and large, LED tail-lights. Inside there has been a lot of work on presentation and quality, with the instrument meters housed in individual binnacles.

Under the skin Proton's new generation Campro engine makes its debut in this car, producing 83kW from its 1.6-litre capacity. A 1.8-litre version is expected to follow, although not in 2004.

Underpinning the car is a MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension which has been taken from the Waja sedan but retuned and designed with the help of Proton subsidiary Lotus Engineering.

The Persona signals the start of a stream of new cars built at the company’s equally new Tanjung Malim plant – also known as Proton City.

Mid-year the Waja is also expected to get a boost, with the Campro 1.6 replacing the current Mitsubishi 1.6.

Towards the end of the year the Satria light car will be replaced by an all-new generation, with a 2.0-litre GTi version due early in 2005.

Arriving around the same time will be a five-door 1.0-litre hatchback, which will sit below Satria. A Proton sports car based on the Lotus Elise backbone frame should also break cover in 2005.

In 2005-06 should come a small people-mover and small all-wheel drive wagon based on the Waja platform.

This activity and investment is being driven by company boss Tengku Mahaleel, who knows Proton needs to rejuvenate and refresh its range as Malaysia cuts its massive vehicle import tariffs and imposes excises to compensate for lost revenue – effectively hitting the national car company with a double negative.

In Australia, PCA bounced back in 2003 on the back of the Jumbuck utility from 2002’s dismal 873 sales to record 1320 sales last year. The highpoint was 1999 when 3182 Protons were sold. The company wants to sell 5000 cars here in 2005.

A dealer development consultant has been appointed as PCA plans the refurbishment and redevelopment of its network as the rush of new product approaches.

Currently there are 27 Proton dealers nationwide with just seven in the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane areas.

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