We might not feel it now, but Proton sits on a powerful launchpad that could make it a big global brand in the coming years. We might not even recognise it later.
Right now, it’s no secret that Proton is on the up and up, with sales at a high despite the COVID-19 complications and perhaps one or more new models soon to be revealed. Adding to the national automaker’s rolling good times, it seems major stakeholder Geely has got even more ambitious plans in store, and it involves some significant tech transfer from Volvo as well as....wait for it....world domination. Exciting!
According to Reuters, the Chinese automotive group has accelerated its plan to become a truly global presence with Proton poised to play an integral part. In plainer English, prepare for the fast-tracked international fame of Malaysia’s first automaker. That is, if the report paints an accurate portrayal of the Group’s roadmap.
Sources within Geely’s senior officials say that the proven and technologically advanced Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) will underpin these new global cars, allowing them to streamline costs and develop multiple new models within a relatively short period of time. The platform has already seen action in cars such as the Volvo XC40, the Polestar 2 electric vehicle, and several varieties of Lynk & Co cars.
Alongside CMA, Geely’s B-segment Modular Architecture (BMA) will open up even more possibilities, not only serving as the basis for new B-segment models, as the name denotes, but also to transition Proton’s current range of smaller cars such as the Saga, Iriz, and Persona. This platform duo will also ease the task of harnessing Volvo’s technology as well as Geely’s prowess in supply chain management and local production. A high profile example of a car perched atop the BMA platform is of course the incoming Proton X50.
“CMA will be the core of Geely’s future architecture design ... We learn technologies and build up talents through developing it,” said Li Li, vice president at Geely Automobile Research Institute and former veteran Ford engineer, confirming the Proton plan during an interview in Ningbo, south of Shanghai.
The source within Geely declined to provide specifics on the ‘Proton plan’ such as a timeframe for these expansions or financial targets, but did hint at the substantial springboard effect that such a synergistic approach could produce.
At the core of Geely’s goal here is market share. Currently, its group-wide sales of over 2 million cars annually place it just outside of the world’s top 10, and there is only so little that can be done with both their in-house brands and Volvo. Respectively, they are either unknown to the rest of the world or, with regard to the Swedes, are never going to sell in the kind of volume to elevate them into those coveted ranks.
For all their merits, Geely still needs a mass-market brand with the potential to propel them into many foreign markets, which is exactly why Proton’s importance cannot be overstated. There’s little reason why the X70 would not be a rousing success if sold abroad, especially if done so at the right price while still offering the same world-class safety features and amenities that have made the SUV such a hit locally.
By all indications, the same could also be said of the soon-to-be revealed X50 as both would capitalise on the growing popularity of the soft-roading urban-centric SUV, and it’s especially critical to gain a foothold in this lucrative vehicle category in developing countries within regions such as Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East/Africa.
In addition to inheriting platforms from the Geely/Volvo co-development melting pot, Proton cars are already on their way to fully embracing their engines, which paves the way for plug-in hybrids and fully electric variants to be introduced in due time.
Reportedly, a wholly new vehicle architecture is also in the works that will focus on cost-effective electric powertrains alongside intelligent connectivity functions and autonomous driving capabilities, which future Proton models within this expansion plan are sure to be the prime beneficiary.
Before it begins in earnest, it looks like there’s a lot of reshuffling happening at the moment to align all of Geely’s leadership and resources behind this global push. While it’s very ambitious and could mean Proton’s permanent transformation, we cannot say what this will mean for it in the short term. Ready or not, Proton does seem to be strapped to a rocket ship, and though that sounds great, also get ready for it to change beyond recognition.
It also raises a very interesting question. Through Geely’s grand plan, should it come to pass that Proton is catapulted to become one of the most globally recognised vehicle brands in the world, would it also mean the abolition of the sales taxes and duties currently levied against foreign automakers within Malaysia? After all, wouldn't it be quite stupid to continue to selfishly protect/insulate our national automaker(s) when they’re already doing so well?