KUALA LUMPUR: The Proton X70 has continued to be the main catalyst in Proton Holdings Bhd’s rebound in the local car market ever since the much-admired vehicle was introduced about four years ago.
Being the first model produced after the merger with China-based Zhejiang Geely Holding Group through the acquisition of a 49.9 per cent stake in Proton by Geely, the X70 sparked huge interest among car buyers across the country when it first came out and has continued to do so.
At a much more affordable price compared to other sports utility vehicle (SUV) brands in the country, Proton deputy chief executive officer Roslan Abdullah said the X70 has brought confidence back to the Proton brand.
“When we went to Geely in China, we looked at several models and we noticed that SUV vehicles like the (Honda) HR-V and CR-V were very popular there. Globally, we also observed that sedan customers have moved on to SUVs.
“The X70 was one of the models available in Geely and it matched the D-segment car at a reasonable price; for me, it is a bit unfortunate that people expect cheaper prices from Proton, but that has been the public perception since Proton started in 1985,” he told Bernama.
With the Proton X70 nearing its fourth launch anniversary on December 12, Roslan said the national carmaker has been able to put up a price tag that is acceptable for customers in Malaysia.
“This model was among the bestselling in China at that time. The total number (of X70 units sold) was about 600,000 units from 2016-2018.
“The X70 brought customer confidence back to Proton. Before X70, many of our customers could be considered to have given up on Proton and gone on to other brands,” he noted.
“When we brought our dealers to China for the X70 model, their confidence towards Proton returned as this was a rising model.”
The return of customers due to the X70 boosted Proton’s sales figures, which exceeded the 100,000 mark in 2019 compared to 64,744 units sold in the previous year.
Sales have continued on an upward trajectory since then, with Proton recording 109,716 vehicles in 2020, and 114,708 in 2021.
For January to October this year, Proton has already surpassed its 2021 full-year sales at 115,366 units.
“We brought in an SUV at an affordable price with special features, such as the ‘Hi-Proton’ connectivity. At that time, if you look at brands such as Tesla, they were also talking about connectivity.
“Also, we have the lock and unlock feature using a smartphone. With the X50 you can also start the engine using the connectivity technology. This is one of the advantages we brought from the X70,” he added.
On the improvements and adjustments made by Proton before bringing the X70 into the local market, Roslan said it was not as simple as changing only the left-hand to the right-hand drive and replacing the Geely logo with that of Proton, as assumed by most people.
“We also need to understand Malaysian driving behaviour and set the model in a national direction. We also need to address the tropical weather in Malaysia and make the necessary adjustments with regard to the materials used inside the car,” he said.
“We also re-tune the suspension of the X70 in accordance with Malaysian road conditions. Proton, as you know, has right-handle technology from Lotus, so it makes sense for Proton to include that technology into the model,” he added.
Beginning in 2019, in a midst of the X70 hype, Roslan said Proton also launched a series of face-lift versions for almost all the other Proton models, such as the Saga, Exora, Persona, and Iriz.
“Because of the X70, the demand for these face-lift models which we launched in 2019 also rose, such as the face-lift Saga. But with the Saga, we are facing some component supply disruptions.
“Demand for the Persona and Iriz face-lift models that were launched in 2021 rose 27 per cent, driven by the ‘Hi-Proton’ technology introduced in X70.
“The X70 has lifted customer confidence so much that when we did the soft-launch for the X50, we got 20,000 bookings,” he revealed.
Roslan said Proton X70 has gone through with a series of improvements and upgrades since 2018, to ensure that the model remained attractive to potential buyers.
“For starters, we have the first batch of the CBU model,” he noted. “In the latest development, we have launched the X70 with a 1.5-litre, turbo three-cylinder engine, the same one used in the X50. Some people may see this as a downgrade, but in fact, this has made the X70 a smoother model, in addition to it being more fuel efficient with cheaper road tax.”
“The introduction of the 1.5 TGDI engine also heralds the next step of Proton’s transformative journey as it is produced at a brand-new hi-tech engine assembly line in Tanjung Malim. The engine is also used by Volvo and Geely and this is the first time it has been produced outside of China, proving that Malaysians have the capability to build a highly advanced product to a global quality standard,” he said.
“The decision to make this investment in the new assembly line would not have been possible without the success of the X70 and so indirectly, the model has also helped to bring new technologies and train a new generation of young Malaysian automotive engineers who now work there,” added Roslan.
On the supply of spare parts, the head of Proton Parts Centre Sdn Bhd Noor Suzanah Samsudin said since the lockdowns, the company has started the three-month stock policy for its 3S and 4S dealers nationwide to ensure undisrupted supply in the future.
“(So) we have started the policy for our 3S and 4S dealers to have at least three months’ stocks for 22 fast-moving parts, which are the parts for the normal service routines so that every customer will not face any issues when they service their vehicle.
“On top of that, we have to be ready too. Just like at the dealer’s end, at our end we keep three months’ worth of stocks. However, it could be a challenge for a consistent supply from the suppliers as well as for us to move fast to deliver (the parts) to dealers. We have to be very good in terms of our speed and accuracy,” she added.
For Sabah and Sarawak, Noor Suzanah said Proton already has two regional parts centres in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu and has increased the number of shipments to the two states.
“Recently, we opened a new warehouse in Kuching, which is about three times bigger than the current warehouse. That is where we can start better distribution and supply of parts there,” she added.
Roslan said the supply disruption was unavoidable.
“When the situation was about to improve, Shanghai was put under lockdown. When Shanghai lifted the lockdown, we received about 40 containers in one go. Usually, we receive two or three containers every week.
“We are striving to improve,” he added.
With the X70, Roslan said Proton has managed to stage a rebound in the local automotive market and created huge job opportunities, especially for the local talent pool, as well as developing several rural areas such as Tanjung Malim in Perak.
“The original aim for Proton wasn’t just to build and sell cars but it was also to help transform the economy by giving Malaysians mobility and to develop the automotive ecosystem. We haven’t wavered from that goal and with the X70, what we are doing for our customers is to give them the option to begin with a Proton car and end with a Proton car,” he added. — Bernama