The Malaysian maker is trying to haul itself out of the bargain basement using a mid-sized Preve with a value price and a five-year care package that sets a new standard in Australia.
The Preve is on sale from January at $18,990 driveaway and will be followed by the Evora people mover in June. Both cars have a new ‘Five Star’ support package that runs to a five-year warranty, five-year roadside assist and five years of free servicing and Proton is also aiming for a five-star ANCAP safety score.
But Proton has a disastrous stop-start history in Australia and admits it needs to change radically to build some confidence and support for the brand. Its sales this year are down by more than 20 per cent, even from a miserable base of less than 1000 sales by October 2011, at just 760 cars. And the Preve, even with a push direct from Proton chief Datuk Jamil, will struggle with a 1.6-litre engine in a field that includes the impressive Mazda6, Ford Mondeo and more than a dozen others.
"You have to put the peg in the sand and say this is our new starting point," Proton Australia's general manager of sales and marketing, Billy Falconer, tells Carsguide. "I wouldn't say it's the last chance but we've had re-launches before. What we want to do is reassure people."
The Preve is a major change of direction for Proton, which has always exported baby cars developed for its Malaysian base. It looks good but the engine is underwhelming and the rest of the package - even with Lotus suspension tuning - is not going to win people across from mainstream brands. But Falconer is talking positive about the car and the new approach.
"It's been a long time coming. We've excited about it. I think the Preve is a better offer than the S16 at $11,990," he says. "Yes, it's the lowest price in the class. But price is not what we'll sell on going forward. With a five-year package we're showing we're supporting the brand.
The Exora is a good looking seven-seater that will be priced around $25,000 on the road and Falconer says there are more newcomers for Proton by 2015. "We're not happy at all with our sales, but at the end of the day we've had no new models for three years. Now there are three other new models with two years."
The Preve and Evora were previewed at the Australian International Motor Show, where Proton chief Jamil was optimistic about the future. "We think that, in Australia, the demand for mid-size sedan cars like this is very popular," he says. "In terms of projection we are looking at about 200 to 240 cars a month."
That means an ambitious sales target of 2500 in the first year, rising to 4000. But Jamil says Proton is not renewing its efforts in Australia just to save face, or to lose money. "It's no point of us doing good numbers but losing money at the end of it. At the end of the day, it's the top and bottom line that matters very much to the company. Its not just about selling cars, it's about maintaining your name and your brand.