Protons of courage
The Malaysians have a value message and a five-year plan
PROTON is having one last shot at success in Australia.
The Malaysian maker is trying to haul itself out of the bargain basement using a midsized Preve with a value price and a five-year care package that sets a new standard.
The Preve, on sale from January at $18,990 drive away, will be followed by the Exora people mover in June. Both have a new ‘‘ five-star’’ support package of five-year warranty, five-year roadside assist and five years’ free servicing. Proton is also aiming for a five-star ANCAP safety score.
But Proton has a disastrous history in Australia and admits it needs to change radically to build confidence and support for the brand. Its sales this year are down more than 20 per cent, and from a miserable base of fewer than 1000 sales by October 2011, at just 760 cars.
The Preve, even with a push from Proton chief Datuk Jamil, will struggle with a 1.6-litre engine in a field including the impressive Mazda 6, Ford Mondeo and more than a dozen others.
‘‘ You have to put the peg in the sand and say this is our new starting point,’’ Proton Australia general manager of sales and marketing Billy Falconer told Carsguide.
‘‘ I wouldn’t say it’s the last chance but we’ve had relaunches before. What we want to do is reassure people.’’
The Preve is a major change of direction for Proton, which has always exported baby cars developed for Malaysia. It looks good but the engine is underwhelming and the rest of the package, even with Lotus suspension tuning, isn’t going to win over people from mainstream brands.
But Falconer is talking positive about the car and the new approach. ‘‘ It’s been a long time coming. We’re excited about it. The Preve is a better offer than the Chery S16 at $11,990,’’ he says. ‘‘ Yes, it’s the lowest price in the class but price is not what we’ll sell on. With a five-year package we’re showing we’re supporting the brand.’’
The Exora is a good-looking seven-seater that will be about $25,000 on the road and Falconer says there will be more newcomers by 2015. ‘‘ We’re not happy with our sales but we’ve had no new models for three years. Now there are three other new models within two years.’’
The Preve and Exora were previewed at the Australian International Motor Show, where chief Jamil was optimistic about the future. ‘‘ The demand for mid-size sedan cars like this is very popular,’’ he says. ‘‘ We are looking at about 200 to 240 cars a month.’’
That means an ambitious 2500 sales in the first year, rising to 4000. But Jamil says Proton is not renewing its efforts in Australia just to save face, or to lose money.
‘‘ No point doing good numbers but losing money,’’ he says. ‘‘ It’s about maintaining your name and your brand.’’
Due in June: The Exora peoplemover will cost about $25,000