This, the Geely Boyue, will also soon be a Proton

This, the Geely Boyue, will also soon be a Proton

The final Geely group brand to have its current future passenger vehicles assessed is Proton. Due to unremarkable cars, a home nation where the annual market remains well below three quarters of a million vehicles and poor marketing in the few countries it has tried to export to, the formerly state-run firm is a lacklustre operation. Could a cash infusion and a management shake-up transform the firm?

Proton's first Chinese CEO

Proton turns 35 this year, having been founded in the early 1980s by Malaysia's former and now existing prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. Back in 1983 the company licensed platforms and powertrains from Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and continued to use these for decades. In fact, several models still use an architecture which was co-developed by MMC and Volvo Cars in the 1990s - it was once the basis of models such as the Mitsubishi Space Star and Carisma as well as the Volvo S40 and V40.

It has been a year since Geely Holding took a 49.9 per cent tranche of Proton. Li Shufu moved quickly to put his stamp on the company, in partnership with 51 per cent co-owner DRB-Hicom Berhad, installing Li Chunrong as the first non-Malaysian CEO of Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Sdn Bhd.

Dr Li is a graduate of Huazhong University of Science and Technology. He holds not only a Bachelor of Electrical Automation but also obtained a Masters in Industrial Engineering and Management. MIT came next, which is where he completed a second Masters in Business Administration. Still not done, there was then a return to Huazhong UST for a Ph.D. (Management Engineering). The first automotive career move was to Dongfeng Motor in 1987 where eventually, Li oversaw the state owned group's six JVs with Groupe PSA, Nissan, Kia, Honda and Cummins and Dongfeng's own brands.

Rebuilding Proton's share of the home market is the obvious first priority for the new management team. Already, there are plans to use Geely models to either fill gaps in the present line-up or replace certain aged models with Geely-sourced designs.

Geely-Volvo engines too?

It is presumed that all future Protons are to be based on Geely-Volvo technology. In time, that might also mean big spending will take place at Proton's powertrain plant, switching what it manufactures to the latest 1.0- and 1.5-litre three-cylinder plus 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines. That would also mean that PHEV options could become available too. For the moment though, Proton competes mostly at the cheaper end of the market, so keeping costs down is key.

SUVs

One of the first additional vehicles will be Proton's first SUV. This has been confirmed as being under development, based upon the 4,520mm long Geely Emgrand Bo Yue (also known as Boyue). The model name is not yet known; only the manufacturing location: Proton's Tanjung Malim plant in the Malaysian state of Perak. Annual production volume of perhaps 20,000-25,000 units is forecast. Expect a market launch in either late 2018 or possibly 2019.

The fate of a second, Suzuki-based SUV is presently up in the air. That's because this model was agreed during the DRB-Hicom ownership era. Three years ago last month, Proton and Suzuki announced an alliance. One of the projects for this JV would be assembly of a Suzuki model with Proton badges, commencing "from around August 2016". This was to be at the huge but underutilised Tanjung Malim factory.

As there has been no word on this project for a while, it is presumed that the Suzuki-based SUV will not now make it to market. The deal to sell a tranche of Proton to Geely's parent company is believed to have placed any expansion of the alliance with the Japanese firm on hold.

If the Suzuki model is presumed to be a no-go, then that isn't necessarily bad news. Geely has a strong range of cars, crossovers and SUVs and can of course leverage its control of both Volvo Cars and the Lynk & Co brand to potentially bring new platforms and state of the art powertrains to its Malaysian subsidiary.

Nothing has been said but there might be plans to build Lynk & Co models in Malaysia, and possibly even expand the brand into both the local and surrounding markets. This would mean a large investment would be needed to refit Tanjung Malim for Volvo, Lynk & Geely's Compact Modular Architecture (CMA). The Swedish brand has had a small scale assembly operation in Malaysia for many years so such an initiative could potentially also supplement or replace that.

Iriz

The brand's existing smallest car is the Iriz. A five-door hatchback, it was revealed in Malaysia in September 2014 and offers the choice of 1.3- and 1.6-litre petrol engines. The architecture, Proton's own, is called PCC. The company will likely keep the Iriz in production for a few years yet, facelifting it in 2019 and replacing it probably in 2023.

Saga

One size up from the A segment Iriz is the Saga. This small hatchback has been in production since January 2008. A 1.3-litre four-cylinder Campro engine was the launch engine, with a 1.6-litre unit following. There was a facelift in August 2011 but very few changes since then. Proton is likely to replace this car - finally - in 2019.

Exora

Mitsubishi and Volvo's X40 platform is the basis of the Exora, a C/D segment MPV. Based on the now obsolete Waja/Impian hatchback, Proton launched this model in its home market in April 2009. A facelifted model was revealed in February 2015. It it unclear if there will be a direct replacement as the Geely Borui-derived SUV due out later this year is around the same size.

Ertiga

Suzuki's Indonesian subsidiary, PT Suzuki Indomobil Sales (SIS), told the local media in January 2016 that it had been contracted to export 1,500 CKD kits of its Ertiga every month from May of that year. The Proton Ertiga went on sale in Malaysia during mid-2016, exports to the Indonesian market commencing in late 2016.

SIS revealed a new generation of this seven-seater minivan at the Jakarta motor show in April. Again due to Geely's effective control of Proton, the Malaysian brand will likely not renew its supply deal. That will mean either the Proton Ertiga is discontinued within the next few months or replaced by SKD assembly of a Geely crossover.

National car for Indonesia

Back in 2015, Proton told the local media that it had agreed a deal with the Indonesian state to develop and manufacture a 'national car'. This would be in partnerhip with PT Adiperkasa Citra Lestari. Recently, Proton chairman Datuk Seri Syed Faisal Albar said that the project was still being discussed but that it was too early to make any official announcement about what may or may not transpire. The delay likely centres on any agreement being renegotiated so as to incorporate a model with Geely technology.

Future model plan reports for other manufacturers can be viewed in the OEM product strategy summaries section of just-auto.com. Daimler will be the next OEM to have its passenger vehicle divisions' models plans explored.

Future product program intelligence

More detail on the past, current and forthcoming models for every division of Geely Holding can be found in PLDB, the future vehicles database which is part of QUBE.

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