Pro­tons of courage

The Malaysians have a value mes­sage and a five-year plan

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Car News - Paul Gover

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

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