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Proton to start sales push

Proton's entry level models of Satria Neo, Gen2 and Persona will be introduced here just before the end of 2009.

The Malaysian car maker is now export—focussed and with a revitalised pricing strategy, an all—new model, as well as entry—level price point variants of its existing range, in the Australian market.

The company has brought forward the introduction of what it claims will be Australia's lowest priced sedan, which will now arrive in October this year instead of early next year. With a sub—$13,000 pricetag

Proton Cars Australia managing director John Startari says the car's compliance process was completed early and he saw no point in delaying new product. "We're offering a four—door where many are three—door — you'd argue that the buyer, if they can get more for less, might switch to a sedan if the price is right."

"Initially we'll get the manual with the 1.6, early next year we'll have other variants in automatic and manual, with the 1.3—litre engine — it's based on the Campro 1.6 engine."

Startari says the new—entry level models of Satria Neo, Gen2 and Persona would be introduced here just before the end of the year, a big part of the sales increase strategy.

"We're looking to triple our sales over a two—year period, that's on the back of a substantial increase in marketing, the introduction of a more price—competitive range — we see the volume growth at the lower end," he says.

Brand awareness and its dealer network have been two of the brand's main issues - something Startari aims to address within the new plan. "Our dealer network has undergone substantial change, we've parted company with 17 of our 41 dealers by mutual consent, we went to them with our plan, with infrastructure that was required, which required some investment on their part, those that didn't want to do it agreed to cease trading."

"We've recruited seven new dealers in the last two months, which we have to fast—track now because the car is coming quicker — we need to be at 50 dealers by the end of 2011 nationally.

"We've parted company with nearly half our network, we wouldn't have done that ... things needed to change and in the last 18 months there's been some dramatic changes, I'm not saying it's the last throw of the dice but things needed to change." Startari says the brand erred with its buyer—direct strategy and had needed to raise its profile with consumers.

"We're dealing with an awareness problem, we should be selling 4000—5000 a year, we've researched this and found out why - there's nothing out of the ordinary — at the end of the day it comes down to awareness … if they don't know us, they shy away because there are other more visible brands out there," he says.

"Proton has already recruited a number of new dealers and they have told us that they had considered taking on other low cost brands but did not want to take the risk with brands that do not have an established record in Australia." With a number of Chinese brands coming into the market, as well as existing Japanese and Korean brands increasing small—car numbers, Proton sees its strength in its 15—year presence in the market.

Startari says the Australian arm's four—year business plan has factory support. "The factory knows it will be tough in the early stages, the market has changed but the foundations of our business plan is still sound and we believe we can achieve it," he says.

"Clearly there will be new low cost brands entering the market in the coming months, however Proton's strength is that it has been in this market for close to 15 years and is a factory owned operation with the full backing of our parent company in Malaysia.

"Product, pricing and marketing support have received major boosts from our parent company to ensure that we have the tools to expand our market share in this country," he says. "The next 12 months will tell if we've got it right - or if we've got it horribly wrong.”

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