Pro­ton aims for pos­i­tive re­ac­tion

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - FEATURES - Fred­eric Manby

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.

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