Proton aims for positive reaction
MALAYSIA’S Proton owns Lotus sports cars but you’d never think so driving a Proton. Chalk and cheese sum up the relationship. Five years ago Proton, Malaysia’s national carmaker, sold 4,500 cars in Great Britain. By last year the number had slumped to 767 – a figure which Simon Park, its general manager for sales and marketing, has off pat. Sales have slumped because the cars, which sold on value-for-money rather than zoom-zoom allure, have aged and are ready for replacement, says Mr Park.
The dive in sales meant that money was not spent on promotion – and its models are not household names. The Persona and Gen 2 will be replaced by brand-new models next year and in 2013 the Savvy hatchback will be replaced and there will be a smaller A segment car (the Ford Ka class). In 2014 a bought-in diesel engine (he’s not saying from where but Mitsubishi diesels were used in the 1990s) will be offered across the range – giving aspirations to reach up to 5,000 sales a year.
Mr Park was speaking at a multi-marque test day organised at Wetherby Racecourse by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. He had brought for evaluation a seven-seater called the Exora (not easily confused with the Lotus Evora). It will be on sale in the first quarter of next year, priced to sell – from £13,500 with a CVT automatic gearbox and a 1.6 litre petrol motor giving around 140bhp.
The demo car was Malaysian spec, with a four-speed automatic which roared and buzzed – like much of the Exora a throw-back to the days of clunky rear seat adjustment, a lap belt for the rear centre seat, a “tinny” door closure, vibration through the steering which will get tiring on a journey, plus tyre roar and body sway on corners.
And yet? Well, the CVT gears may help and there may be refinements made before the Exora reaches Britain and there is also the relatively low price for a roomy sevenseater. It is a 180 inches (4.5m) long, slab-sided MPV, the same size as the rather prettier Renault Grand Scenic – which costs almost £18,000 for the 110bhp entry model. Exora will sell in a grade two trim with leather and a DVD player for £14,500 – pricing that will appeal to the family on a tighter budget and to the taxi trade.
However, Vauxhall sells a Zafira seven-seater for £13,995 with a 114bhp motor which will undermine the Exora’s ambitions.
Admittedly, Zafira prices then leap to £19,665 for the next model – the biggest price gap in the mass market.
Just what we will get with the UK Exora will become clear nearer its arrival.
The website for the Malaysian version talks of Lotus tuning for the engine “packing 125hp” and that “your elegant cruising machine sports more than just the best aerodynamics. It oozes sophistication as well with sleek trimmings”.
Quite so. A trump card for the Exora could be the free fit of an LPG tank – trialled on the Persona – the decision is not certain. LPG gives cheaper mileage than diesel. Simon Park reckons on a saving of around £2,200 over 50,000 miles.
PROTON EXORA: The seven-seater is one of the new models which the Malaysian marque hopes will improve its UK presence.