Proton’s RM600 million trump card – All or NothingInsights
Automotive engineering is an expensive business, and the engine is quite easily the costliest component of that complex ecosystem. It is said that the development cost of a new engine from scratch has the potential to run as high as US$ 1 billion.
Indeed, one of the most noteworthy claims of Proton’s new as-yet-unnamed engine family currently under development is that the final bill is being capped at a measly RM600 million. For a company of Proton’s size and for that many variations of the same basic design, that is very smart optimization of costs.
Even more impressive, as we found out after speaking in person with Proton’s Chief Technical Officer En Rashid Musa, is that the RM600 million bill also covers production, tooling costs, and integration with new transmissions as well. The R&D aspect of the project is said to take up less than RM300 million of the entire budget. To put this figure into perspective, the far less advanced Campro family cost Proton RM450 million to develop.
That being said, the bulk of advanced technologies that these new engines will receive have already been paid for in 2012 when Proton splashed out RM63 million to fully acquire Petronas’ engine technologies.
“Not many people were aware of this; because people only knew Proton bought the NE01 engine. Actually it came with 17 engine technologies and 117 patents,” said Rashid, who further elaborated that the technologies were developed by Petronas over many years and at a cumulative cost in the region of RM 1 billion.
Rashid further recalled, “Petronas was involved with the Sauber F1 team. They were working with many parties, not only one. I remember in 1997, when I was at Lotus, I met Petronas people. They were doing some development work there at Lotus; at Brighton with Ricardo; and with Yamaha as well.”
He further clarified that whilst much of the publicity of that deal centred on the 2.0-litre NE01 engine, it was just one item amongst other more valuable acquisitions that include the abovementioned engine patents, technologies, and dyno testing cells based in Bangi. Additionally, Proton had also hired members of the Petronas engine team to continue their work.
By acquiring these innovations at a relatively cheap price, Proton spared themselves the trouble and considerable cost of having to develop them from scratch. Instead, Rashid and his team of engineers are able to focus their attention toward updating and refining these technologies to be relevant for current and upcoming market requirements.
As mentioned in earlier reports, the first prototypes of the new engine family have been fired up at Ricardo UK. The century-old engine consultant had worked together with Petronas and they co-own some of the patents and technologies which Proton will be implementing in the new engines.
Despite prevailing industry trends in moving toward all-aluminium engine construction, Proton will persist with cast iron for the new engine family.
According to Rashid, “There are pros and cons. Yes, [iron block] will be slightly heavier, but there are other advantages – better rigidity, better thermal efficiency. The best part is that we already have ready-made facilities to make the engine with cast iron.”
Like most modern engines, Proton’s new range of powertrains are modular in design – a critical feature which enabled the company to spawn this many variations without incurring significantly higher costs.
An inherited trait from the Campro family in the new engines is that all variations share a common bore. From this starting point, a short-stroke configuration is used to generate the 1.0-litre 3-cylinder and 1.3-litre 4-cylinder mills, whilst the long-stroke setup underpins the 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine. Although the long-stroke 3-cylinder derivative is described as a 1.2-litre by Proton, it is in actual fact just a 1.1, displacing 1,124cc.
But whilst they are spawned off the same block, the 3-cylinder and 4-cylinder versions follow slightly different developmental paths. The mechanically simpler 3-cylinder motors, which feature port fuel injection and variable valve timing, are being engineered by Lotus, whilst the more advanced 4-cylinder engines are being co-developed with Ricardo, who co-owns certain patents that will be implemented in the bigger engines.
Noting Proton’s less-than-competitive economies of scale in supporting this many variations from a production standpoint, Rashid repeated his emphasis that because the new engines will be built using existing casting facilities, there is less cost to require amortization. Upgrades are nevertheless planned to ensure that the equipment are able to manufacture the engines at the finer tolerances required to sustain the higher performance and efficiency targets.
Although output figures of the engine family have yet to be fully disclosed, it has been made known that the 1.5-litre turbo engine is targeted to make 180hp and 250Nm – the highest specific output (120hp per litre) ever achieved by a Proton production engine. It is a major step up from the 88.4hp per litre output managed by the current CFE powerplant. According to Rashid, further increase is possible with future enhancements tapping into Lotus knowhow.
Further pushing the boundaries of its engineering capabilities, Proton is targeting an extended maintenance cycle of 20,000km between services for the new engine family; up from 10,000km prescribed for the current Campro family. Rashid further indicates that the engine is built to accommodate the eventual implementation of condition-based maintenance, whereby the vehicle’s own on-board diagnostic systems will prompt the owner to service his or her vehicle.
“These technologies are actually available in the latest engines developed by other OEMs, nothing new. Only difference is, we make them affordable,” Rashid concluded.