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Proton puts its past behind it

Buck the trend: The new Proton Preve will soon be joined by a host of new stablemates.

Model shake-up, safety the focus for Proton’s ambitious Australian makeover

Proton logo5 Sep 2013

By BARRY PARK

MALAYSIAN car brand Proton will soon complete an almost complete rout of existing models in its showroom, with the promise of more to come in 2014.

Bolder plans include the desire to replace the brand’s once most successful model, the Jumbuck ute that was dropped earlier this year, and even some high-performance variants turned out of the car-maker’s race and rally skunk works, R3.

In the meantime, existing models including the Persona and Gen.2 will be discontinued ahead of tough federal legislation due in November that will effectively introduce an Australia-wide ban on the sale of passenger cars not fitted with potentially life-saving electronic stability control, which can make a crash more survivable by helping a vehicle recover from a skid.

Proton will reinvent itself with a new generation of cars that Australian general manager of sales and marketing, Billy Falconer, said would help reinvigorate lacklustre sales of the current range, which includes the price-driven S16 sedan -- the only existing model that will carry through to the new-look showroom.

In a sign of how showrooms have all but dried up for the Malaysian brand, Proton only posted 36 sales last month, a figure that Mr Falconer admitted was “obviously not where we want to be”.

Instead, the brand will attempt to rebuild buyer interest by shaking off an at times less-than-stellar safety record and introducing top-rating five-star safety across the range, as well as competing on specification in an attempt to move away from the brand’s budget image.

“The long-term view is to move away from being price-driven but we're not at that stage just yet,” Mr Falconer said.

“I think customers can expect some pretty good value out of the Suprima S when it gets here when compared to the competitors.”

It will need to, because the Suprima S will face strong competition when it does arrive late this year, taking on well-established incumbents including Australia’s best-selling car in August, the Mazda3, Holden’s locally made Cruze hatch, Toyota’s Corolla, and Hyundai’s strong-selling i30.

Proton will start small, aiming to claw back the 0.2 percent market share it had carved out for itself almost a decade ago when the Gen.2 and Jumbuck counted among the brand’s best-selling models.

“Our first goal is to get back to that (0.2 percent) and then see where it goes from there,” Mr Falconer said.

“As far as giving numbers now, we’re going to re-evaluate these three new models now that they’re landing, I guess sooner than expected, and re-look at the volumes and opportunities.”

Part of that plan, he said, was to expand the dealer network to allow customers to take advantage of five years of capped-price servicing, which for the Exora will amount to $1600, or about $320 a year or 15,000 kilometres, whichever comes first.

“Part of our plan is to expand our dealer network, obviously to support more sales and the new models, but also aftermarket sales as well.

“You can’t offer capped-price servicing for five years. Customers are going to want to go back to a dealer, so that is why we need more dealers.”

The car-maker has added seven new dealers to its network in recent months, with the plan to extend its numbers to about 30 nationwide. This will allow Proton to back up its five-year fixed-price servicing with accessible service centres – a key factor in hanging onto customers.

New owners DRB-HICOM have flagged an aggressive push into the Australian market, led by a new generation of Proton-badged cars that will sell themselves on a five-star safety rating – something Mr Falconer says some of its competitors currently lack, and a big step forward from the one-star Jumbuck that quietly dropped out of showrooms in 2010.

The Suprima S is Proton’s second five-star rated car alongside the Preve sedan.

“We want to start to build confidence in the Proton brand,” Mr Falconer said.

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