Proton's future plans discussed

If you’ve been wondering why you haven’t heard much about Proton this year, the Malaysian manufacturer has spent the entirety of 2011 working on its range of soon-to-be-released 'global cars'.
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Proton’s local operations have been keeping steady this year thanks to models such as the S16, which has been fighting the price war against the ever-expanding range of cheap Chinese cars.

CarAdvice had the opportunity to chat with Chairman of Proton Cars Australia and Group Managing Director of Proton Holdings Berhad, Dato’ Sri Haji Syed Zainal Abidin (seen above with Lotus-Renault Formula One driver Bruno Senna), at the recent Singapore Formula One Grand Prix to find out future plans of the Malaysian brand’s Australian presence.

Dato’ Syed, who gained his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the University of Maryland, USA, has been at Proton since 2006. In this time he has seen the company through a turn-around phase to prepare the once Malaysian-focused manufacturer to take on the world. He is a strong believer in the idea that despite the Malaysian Government's protection of Proton through high taxes on imported cars, the company must grow up and become a global manufacturer.

As part of his vision for Proton, the company is set to further expand into India and China, with the hope of one day designing and building cars in these markets (Proton already assembles cars in China). Dato’ Syed is adamant the time for acquisitions has finished and that it’s now time for collaboration. His sentiments are echoed in the recent announcement that Proton has once again teamed up with Mitsubishi, this time for joint operations in India and potential for cooperation in technologies for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

He freely admits that up until recently, Proton cars had been designed for the Malaysian market and then improved for the rest of the world. On the contrary, the new breed of Proton’s global cars, currently in the final stages of development, have been designed and engineered from the ground up to meet global standards, which includes Australian Design Rules (ADR).

With the introduction of the global cars, Dato’ Syed believes Proton cannot overreact to the incoming Chinese cars, insisting that Proton’s strategy is “value for money”, not simply “cheap”.

We will see the very first of these cars around the middle of next year, with the all-new Proton Persona. This will be followed by the new Proton Exora people mover (coming to Australia for the first time). Before all that happens though, the S16 will get a revision in February to keep sales strong. Other existing models will also be refreshed as part of the company’s 2011 plans.

When quizzed about Proton’s involvement (via Lotus) in Formula One, Dato’ Syed quickly replies “we have no business in Formula One”, adding that it is Lotus that has the most to gain through brand awareness. Even so, an engineering exchange program is set in place for Proton personnel to be involved in the Renault-Lotus Grand Prix team. This may not necessarily affect the future prospects of Proton’s cars, but it will be beneficial nonetheless.

The exact details and specifications of Proton’s new cars are still unconfirmed, but as part of their new DNA, we suspect a range of new engines and powertrains to make an appearance.