Somehow, the past couple of weeks have been extremely hectic. With not much time to voice out my opinion on things concerning the automotive world, it has become obvious that there have been no new articles on my blog for the whole of last week. I have been busy glancing through magazines and recently, an article in the latest issue of a local Malaysian tuning had caught my eye.
I read an article about the Toyota Avanza owner’s club and found out that it is an active club and that the owner’s of this Van were actually spending their time and money researching on how to make this Van corner better. While this is a good thing, they’ve actually went slightly overboard in putting tons of chassis bracing and high end Kayaba shocks in order for the Van to corner better. I wonder whether firstly, they are doing it for the safety of the passengers or secondly, bragging rights within the club or lastly, so that when they take corners, their children, wife, maid and pet dog or cat will be flung left and right as well as up and down while they are doing the chicanes at obscene speeds around shopping complex car parks. I suppose being Malaysian, everything’s possible. If they can fit a Supra twin turbo engine in the Avanza’s big sister the Unser, I suppose soon we’ll see a 20valve
What I’d like to talk about today are the problems faced by Proton. This small insight to why Proton has actually failed and if no changes are made was cooked up at a weekend Teh Tarik session with a friend of mine somewhere in Gombak. I have to thank this chap who drives a Celica with another round of Teh Tarik on my the next time I see him. I’d divide this examination in brief to a few parts.
1. The people in Proton love cars that handle until they are blind.
The simple fact is that you see Proton building cars that can handle and corner very well. However, none of the general Malaysian public bothers with this fact. What they want is actually tons of space. Good examples of these would be the Perodua Myvi and the Toyota Avanza. At the price they are selling these cars, space counts. Young couples who like buying stuff at IKEA love the Myvi. Thirtysomethings with 3 children and a maid love the Avanza. These people don’t want to drive like Senna or Montoya most of the time. If you go to a small town, you see Pakciks and Makciks driving at 60km/h everywhere. These people don’t need handling. What they need is space to carry their tempoyak and ikan kembung from the pasar to their house. They’d like to know that the car is safe and will be able to protect them in an accident, not handling by Lotus. Proton has its marketing and strategy wrong. While being pro-handling is actually good, the well-being of the company and its future should be considered here.
2. The people in Proton are blind until they fail to see what the market wants.
Again we see the Avanza and Myvi come into the picture. Ever since the Waja, Proton have not launched a car, MPV or SUV that the market actually wants. Proton had launched the Juara to almost no success whatsoever. The reason being that while it is good strategy to launch an MPV, the Malaysian public’s perception on MPV is that is cannot, must not and in all that’s holy look like a van. What Malaysians want in an MPV is that it must be car-like in its features. Look at the Naza Ria/Citra as well as the Toyota Unser (while Pig ugly, still has a 2 box shape) and Avanza.
They also came out with the Proton GEN2, Savvy and the Satria Neo. Notice that the best selling new Proton is still the Waja for the simple fact that it has a boot bigger than most cars in its class and it has 4 doors and legroom for basketball players at the rear. With the Gen2, you got not much bootspace and rear headroom. With the Savvy you got not much of everything as it’s a small mini sized car and with the Satria Neo, it’s a 2 door hatch that’s out to capture the single girl or single guy market. Why come out with cars that do not hit the spot? Why come out with niche market cars in a market where niches aren’t that profitable? Note that there are still not that many Savvy or Satria Neos on the road to this day. You see Gen2s on the road as it has 4 doors. Malaysians still can accept a car like this if it has 4 doors.
Proton has totally misread the basic needs of the Malaysian public by not coming out with cars that they actually need. What they want and need are actually 2 different things. By launching 3 hatchbacks in a sedan driven market is actually bad strategic planning actually. Proton needs another sedan, an SUV and a MPV (that doesn’t look like a van) to survive.
3. The people in Proton believe that they do not need to improve on the quality of material they use and only improve on the finishing and producing defect free cars.
This is another strategy gone wrong for Proton. Let’s take the success story of another Korean car that is a success story in
“I want what a Mercedes have. I want Leather Seats, a CD player, ABS, EBD and some semblance of class that Proton cars don’t give me”
And as such, the marketing team in Naza Kia throws in leather seats, a CD player ABS, EBD, rear disc brakes and great marketing advertisements showing class and grandeur from a Kia Spectra. The general populace buys it in droves.
What Proton has done to counter Kia is come out with products that have an interior made from the same plastic as the microwave containers we use for takeout food. There are no leather seats unless you pay for it and only recently decided to offer CD players on most cars. Proton, no one listens to tape nowadays. Are you in league with aftermarket accessory shops? You want more people to go change their players at accessory shops issit?
If the basic Kia Spectra offers ABS, why isn’t Proton offering ABS like what the general populace wants? I think all Protons should have ABS for the simple sake of telling the people who buy cars that Proton cares for the safety of its consumers. The actual fact is that, the Pakciks and Makciks who drive at 60km/h do not really need the ABS as they seldom use the car fast enough for anything to happen. Some even send the car to the workshop because they think that the judder they feel upon heavy braking is a faulty brake system whereas it’s actually the ABS kicking in. These people wouldn’t know how the ABS works but they just like to have it on their car as it gives them bragging rights when they’re exchanging information at the Mamak stall or among relatives at a family reunion. Imagine this scene:
This is also the same with the rear disc brakes. Notice with the Honda ES model Civic the 1.7 models came with rear drum brakes. Malaysians were aghast as they thought that drum brakes couldn’t stop anything but a 1950 morris minor. So the latest Civics brought in from CKD packs in
If Proton wants to at least gain back some of the sales which it has lost, it would need to actually give more than what they currently give. They would need to work on a more tactile interior. The interior would have to be at least a good as a
Malaysians want space, toys and class. They do not want Lotus to tune the suspension. They want gadgets that they see in Mercedes and BMWs. They want bus sized interiors with the luxuries of a pleasure cruiser. What has been given by Proton are hatchbacks and more hatchbacks and ugly van-like MPVs which no one wants. No wonder people are not buying the latest batch of Protons.
A breakdown on what should Proton do in order to survive:
1. Market on safety, luxury and space. People at this price range do not want “handling by Lotus.” But want a cheap Mercedes knockoff.
2. Make MPVs, SUVs and Sedans instead of launching 3 hatchbacks in a row.
3. Improve the tactile feel of the cabin. Give top notch plastics.
4. Install the latest safety features at whatever cost as Malaysians like to brag about what they have in their car.
5. Have a proper strategic planning team in place. Find out where Proton needs to go from here on. Proton is never going to be a Ferrari who formed his company with the need to maintain his racing team. And as such, Proton has to know what t wants to be. It needs to be a volume seller. It needs to make safe, reliable, spacious, luxurious and stylish cars within a price range. It needs to be the next