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Proton targets ANCAP five-star rating on all models

High five: The new Suprima S is one of two Protons to score a five-star safety rating.

Value for money and safety credentials are key to Proton's local sales boost

Proton logo19 Nov 2013

By TIM NICHOLSON

MALAYSIAN brand Proton will push safety and value-for-money in a bid to gain a foothold in Australia's super-competitive new car market.

The Malaysian car-maker's safety record received a boost this year, with the Preve small sedan and just-launched Suprima S hatch both scoring five-star crash safety rating from ANCAP.

The Exora seven-seat compact people-mover that also arrived this year was awarded a four-star rating, but Proton has implemented a five-star only policy for vehicles released in Australia from this year on.

The Exora was released in Malaysia in 2009, hence the lower safety rating, but Proton executives confirmed with GoAuto that the next-generation version will be awarded top safety marks.

Proton discontinued both the Persona and Gen 2 models this month after laws mandating electronic stability control (ESC) across the country ruled the vehicles out of local sale. The cheaper S16 sedan that retails for $12,990 drive-away does have ESC but only has a three-star ANCAP rating.

Proton's latest salvo - the Suprima S hatch - launched last week priced from $21,790 drive-away for the base variant with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), pitting it against established names in the small car segment including the Toyota Corolla, Holden Cruze and Ford Focus.

Speaking at the launch of the Suprima S last week, Proton Cars Australia general manager for sales and marketing Billy Falconer said the company's focus will shift to providing well-specified models with top safety ratings, rather than budget-friendly offerings.

“In Australia, our new direction is about offering value for money and we want to be known for value for money,” he said. “We don’t want to be known as cheap-and-cheerful going forward. It is time for this brand to change, we know that will take time.

“In the past we haven’t had five-star ANCAP safety rating so price has had to be a point of difference. Going forward that will be changing.”

Mr Falconer said Proton would increase its marketing spend in a bid to boost the brand's profile and shed the down-market image, admitting it had been a lean few years for the car-maker in Australia.

“We have had the barrier of not having launched a car, other than recent vehicles, since November 2009. It's been a tough three years without launching any products, but on the backs of these three new launches obviously that will change. There will be a substantial increase in marketing for Proton going forward.”

The lack of product has also impacted Proton's dealer network, with new dealers only coming into the Proton fold in the past few months thanks to the additions to the line-up.

“We haven’t been out there actively seeking dealers because we didn’t have the products to offer. We do now. We have been out seeing dealers. Some of these dealers we have brought on board are on the basis of these new products that have arrived and what we have showed them whats coming.

“It's an important part of our business plan to ensure we overcome those hurdles to increase our market share and having the product is obviously a very big part of that,” he said.

While Mr Falconer acknowledges the risk of trying to push Proton further up the automotive food chain, he said it was a risk worth taking.

“We have done a lot of research on price and of you look at our numbers over the last 15 years, price hasn’t got us to where we need to be. It's about being competitive and changing the Proton brand so that people buy the product because it’s a Proton, not because it’s a cheap and nasty price.

“Yes price works, price will always work, but you are going to have a limited amount of buyers on price. We have got to increase the brand strength and that’s what we are doing here.”

A Proton executive confirmed that Proton sells around 150,000 vehicles domestically in Malaysia a year, with an additional 10,000 exported to countries such as Australia.

The company plans to boost its annual sales total to 500,000 cars in five years time, with exports accounting for around half that figure.

In Australia, Proton has sold 517 vehicles to the end of October this year, a 43 per cent drop over the same period last year.

Its biggest selling vehicle locally is the Preve sedan with 222 units sold in that period, followed by the S16 with 120 sold and 85 Personas have found homes.

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