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Proton wants to come out of the dark

Supreme leader: The recently launched Suprima S marks the start of more ‘sporting’ vehicles from Proton.

Malaysian brand gets serious, says “you’ll be seeing Proton everywhere in January”

Proton logo9 Dec 2013

By DANIEL GARDNER

PERENNIAL struggler Proton is gung-ho about entering a "new era" in Australia with a host of new and imminent models, and the most significant marketing push in its relatively short history.

The Malaysian budget brand is also attempting to slowly move up from the bargain basement on the back of sporty offerings and a stronger emphasis on safety (including a mandatory five-star ANCAP policy), with more models on the way next year.

These include several hotted-up R3 variants of its range with more powerful turbo engines, as well as a new global small-car to replace the old Savvy at the bottom of its line-up.

Significant investment has also been allocated by the Malaysian head-office since DRB-Hicom took over Australian ownership at the beginning of 2012, and the funding will be used to construct an aggressive advertising campaign.

All of this is aimed at turning around the brand’s flagging fortunes – sales are down 40.6 per cent this year, with 572 units sold.

The activity will not just boost the throughput of its current 20-strong dealer network, but also allow it to more than double its footprint to 50 sites by the end of 2014.

“Proton Malaysia has now injected a substantial investment for advertising, which will be commencing from January 2014 to ensure we get the Proton name out there, improve on the brand awareness in Australia and increase our sales,” says Proton Australia general manager of sales and marketing Billy Falconer.

“You will be seeing Proton everywhere from January. We apologise for being so quiet but now it’s time for us to make some noise.”“We understand the challenges, we know what we are up against, it’s not an easy road ahead of us, but we are up for the challenge and we will be doing all that we can and with the support of DRB Hicom you can see that we’ve got the best opportunity we’ve ever had.

“It’s a new era for Proton and we’re excited about the future and there’s a lot of things that we’ve been working on over those past three years... its not just about the new models that we’ve got but its how we get them out in to the market and make sure we capitalise on the opportunity that’s available in the Australian market.”

The sizable marketing budget, healthy new-model roll out and new aftersales incentives will, Proton says, attract a younger customer base beyond its current older demographic – crucial to its aspirations.

Information from a recent Roy Morgan customer survey was used in part to form Proton’s new strategy, highlighting the younger market as a key target.

“60 per cent of Proton owners are aged 50 or older with 22 per cent of owners being aged between 21 and 39,” said Mr Falconer.

“That’s (the 21-39s) our target demographic and where we want to see the growth and that’s where the largest opportunity is for us. Social media will be used to ensure we can capitalise on that in addition to all the other advertising we will be introducing.

“The volume hasn’t been that great and is purely due to the fact that we haven’t been telling enough people about the offers we’ve got and the cars we’ve got available. That’s changing from January 2014.

“In the past it has been an issue where all our ads have looked different so there has been no brand recognition - something we are addressing,” Mr Falconer told us.

The company this week outlined optimistic sales projections for the current range, all of which now share a signature front grille to be worn by all future products in a bid to raise brand recognition.

Brand new and ready to go, Proton is pitching the Suprima S to win the most sales of its three-car line-up, with a one per cent share of the small hatchback segment and 128 sales predicted per month.

With Lotus tuned suspension, a 103kW/205Nm turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a five-star ANCAP safety rating, the Suprima S GXR starts at $26,590 and is aimed at a market looking for a more sporty but budget priced five-door hatch.

Proton is targeting another one per cent, this time of the small sedan segment, with the Preve range, comprised of the $15,990 GX, the sportier turbo GXR and – from 2014 – a luxurious LE. This target equates to 74 sales per month.

The third piece in the pie for now is the $25,990 Exora seven-seater people-mover, the sole Proton offering without a five-star ANCAP rating (it scores four).

The company is also looking for a five per cent stake of the segment, equating to 33 sales per month.

Proton says future versions of the Exora will gain curtain airbags to improve the safety equation, but until then the car-maker is hoping its mantle as “Australia’s lowest priced seven-seater” will attract healthy custom.

Beyond this, Proton will launch five new models over the next two years, including more youth-focused offerings utilising its Lotus connections.

The arrival of Australia’s first R3 branded model will mark a foray into true hot-hatch territory. The Suprima S R3 will arrive late 2014 with a fettled version of the existing 1.6-litre turbo engine, but a beefy 2.0-litre engine will arrive in early 2015.

“The R3 Suprima S will be the first of several R3 variants that will be launched in Australia,” said Mr Falconer. “It won’t just be a case of a bolt-on body kit (either).”

Proton says the larger turbo engine will also find its way in to other models given time.

Also arriving in the later part of 2014 will be Proton’s so-called ‘Global Small Car’ – or GSC – to replace Australia’s former cheapest car - the Savvy.

The light hatchback will focus on both fun and economic motoring with normally aspirated and turbocharged 1.3-litre engines on offer.

A new Exora model will roll-out in 2015, this time wearing a five-star ANCAP rating, as will a replacement for the previous S16 FLX small sedan model.

New products will not be the only focus to put Proton on the map, with dealer numbers on the rise and more planned.

“Our Proton dealer network, our volume - yes it’s been very low, it’s been very tough over the last few years.

Our currently dealer network was at 20 dealers very recently and a lot of those not actively selling,” said Mr Falconer.

“Those dealers have been on board waiting for the new models and then will re-launch with the brand.

“Our target by the end of this year was to have 40 dealers on board, we are looking likely to finish the year with 36 dealers, which is a big jump from 20 dealers and quite a few of them not selling.

“Our target for our dealer network long term is to get to 50 dealers by the end of next year.”

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