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Proton Persona and Exora for 2012

... both the Exora (2009 model pictured) and Persona will be in the second half of the year.

And the two new models could finally give new-car buyers a reason to return to a Proton showroom in 2012.

The Exora people mover will headline for the Malaysian brand but it's an all-new Persona, traditionally the company's price leader but coming with a new name, that has the most potential beyond the new year.

There will also be an update for the S16, called the FLX and pitched into the bottom end of the baby-car class, as well as an overdue commitment to safety.

And Proton is going turbo, both with the Exora and a version of the Persona.

"We've finally got a bit happening in the new year," says John Startari, managing director of Proton Australia. This past year we've done less than enough. We were hoping for 2100 sales but we'll probably do around 1600."

The local operation has been hit heavily by delays in product updates from Malaysia, as well as the loss of its unique - but short on safety - Jumbuck ute.

"We think the Exora could give us something to fill that Jumbuck niche. It's a smaller people mover and there aren't too many competitors," says Startarti.

"It's a genuine seven-seater but about the size of a Toyota Avensis, as opposed to a Kia Carnival."

The Exora is just starting to get traction in Malaysia and Startari says it will only come to Australia with the top-line mechanical package, a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine and automatic gearbox. The likely target price is less than $30,000, on the road. But - and it's a big one - both the Exora and Persona will be in the second half of the year.

"Yes, Exora is delayed. It's scheduled for August," Startari says.

"Exora is scheduled for August. It gives us a replacemtn for the Jumbuck niche. There are not too many competitors with a vehicle like it, as a smaller people people. It's a genuine seven-seater but about the size of a Toyota Avensis as opposed to a Kia Carnival. Before the heavier hitters, Proton will have an update of the current Persona Elegance and a S16 FLX to keep things ticking over. The objective is to hold a price line below $15,000 on the road. We'll have a starter car with dual airbags, ESP and ESC. We've already landed the first of the FLXs. Mass production starts in Malaysia in January and it will be here in March."

Further into the future, and despite a battle that's raging over the ownership and direction in Malaysia, Startari says Proton has a plan to give it a solid future.

"I think Proton will be at the cutting edge of safety, and we'll be using the Exora platform to leverage the Lotus ride and handling in all our cars," he says.

"Proton is also aiming for five-star safety with all its future models."