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Proton S16 cheapest car

The Proton price fighter in the S16, a four-door sedan with a 1.6- litre engine, and the company is aiming for around 1800 sales a year.

The Malaysian carmaker has acted early to head off the potential price threat from Chinese imports, and to try and reach critical mass in local showrooms before the Geely and Great Wall brands gain traction in 2010.

The Proton price fighter in the S16, a four-door sedan with a 1.6- litre engine, and the company is aiming for around 1800 sales a year. The S16 is a major gamble for Proton, which has never gone beyond a bit player in Australia despite good looking cars including the baby Savvy. It has struggled to meet quality expectations and performance targets for local buyers.

"We're doing this to establish the brand in Australia. Set the foundations for the future," says Proton boss, John Startari. "Proton has been in Australia for 14 years, but the results over the years don't represent the true potential of the brand."

He believes the S16, which was originally intended as Australia's cheapest four-door sedan but now also undercuts the $12,490 Suzuki Alto hatch, shows what Proton can do when it is serious about selling. "The product is the strongest point of the car. The price has been set up intentionally to draw attention to the car, and people will be pleasantly surprised when they drive it," Startari says.

The only real shortcoming is a single driver's side airbag. Otherwise the car comes with aircon, power steering, remote central locking and CD sound. There is no automatic, at least at first. Proton says it will come early 2010. Proton also boasts about 82kW of power, economy of 6.3L/100km and Lotus-tuned suspension.

It has signed Miss Universe Australia, Rachel Finch, to tout for the S16. Startari is hoping the car works and says Proton has done all it can to make it a success, including an early bonus from the import duty car for automotive imports from January 1. "We're on sale from December 1 and, at this stage, we'll hold the price into the forseeable future. The exchange rate is also helping," he says. "We have already factored the five per cent duty cut into the price of the car. In the 2010 financial year we're intending to sell 1800 S16s.

That will take our volume to just over 3500, then moving up to 5000 cars after that."