National car maker Proton will be launching three new models in 2016 with the first being the new Proton Perdana that will be sold to the public, unlike the current Honda Accord-based models used by government officials.
In an interview with Star Biz, Proton Chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and CEO Datuk Abdul Harith Abdullah spoke on company’s recovery plan to re-establish itself not just in terms of market share but also the public’s perception of its products.
New models are exactly what Proton will be relying on as it looks to claw its way back to the top of the sales chart. In April, Proton’s sales figures saw it occupy fourth place, behind Perodua, Honda, and Toyota.
Aside from the new Perdana, Proton also plans to introduce a few new models in 2016 as well. “We will have a lot of new models next year, up to three,” says Harith.
However, new models might not be the end all to Proton’s problems. Perception on the quality of its cars has always been a major talking point. “People don’t forget. Bad things they don’t forget. Good things they forget. This perception is the problem. I don’t know what else to do. We give good car, good price. Better car than other cars,” says Tun Mahathir.
The former premier cited models like the Proton Preve which was launched before the car was fully ready, which brought about complaints from buyers. That negative perception affected sales of the Iriz although the hatchback is very well packaged, comparable to what other manufacturers have to offer.
Tun Mahathir added the company is taking such issues much more seriously and has established quality stations throughout the assembly process at many intervals.
Another initiative is Proton’s recently penned strategic partnership and collaboration with Suzuki that would allow Proton to have access to the models, platforms, power train and automotive technology of Suzuki. The deal also encompasses two other main areas – people and market along with products and technology. This decision to seek a partner was deemed a necessity, harping back to its previous partnership with Mitsubishi that saw the company find great success with.
However, Proton will still design and make its own cars and have a range of cars that it will produce with Suzuki. Meanwhile, Suzuki will assist Proton in building a small car which will go head to head against Perodua’s Axia and the market share the model commands at the moment.
With three (or more) new models to be expected and a partnership with Suzuki, Proton will aim to maximise the capacity of its production plants in Shah Alam and Tanjung Malim which is capable of 370,000 units although it produced just 120,000 cars last year.
“Filling up our current capacity in the next 3-5 years is a must. The total number people directly related to Proton is 77,000. We have to do everything within our ability to be successful,” says Harith. Part of this goal includes the idea for between 60,000 and 100,000 Suzuki cars to be manufactured by Proton with exports being part of that deal.
The last piece of the puzzle is to streamline its dealer and vendor network. Currently, Harith says there are around 400 dealers right now and Proton really needs about half of that. Additionally, Proton needs its dealers to establish more 3S centres and more importantly, be financially independent, capable of buying the cars from Proton.
Tun Mahathir said, “Currently, we are not doing so well, for various reasons. But that is what normally happens to automotive companies. Even the biggest automotive companies go through a period of downturn, then they will recover.”
“Now its about executing our plans. Time is not with us. We should have done this five years ago,” Harith said.
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