Proton to launch 'Australia's cheapest car'
AS CHINESE passenger cars and the sub-$13,000 Indian-built Suzuki Alto draw near, Malaysian marque Proton has moved to assert its influence at the budget end of the new-vehicle market with news that it will launch "Australia's lowest priced sedan" in October.
Proton Cars Australia (PCA) has also announced it will add new bottom-rung variants for its established Satria Neo, Gen.2 and Persona model lines in November.
Based on the Saga sedan sold in its home market, the still-to-be-named all-new model for Australia will, according to PCA, have "new specifications and ultra-competitive pricing" below $13,000 when it arrives in the final quarter – months ahead of the original launch date.
To replace the $13,990 1.2-litre Savvy five-door hatch, which is the current title-holder for Australia's cheapest new car with Hyundai's 1.4 Getz S three-door, the Saga-based sedan will come to market here with a 1.6-litre version of Proton's 'Campro' petrol engine and a five-speed manual gearbox.
An automatic transmission and a smaller 1.3-litre petrol engine option will be available from February 2010, with the latter enabling an even lower entry price.Proton Neo. Below: Proton Persona.
A Proton spokesperson told GoAuto that the aggressive pricing and the introduction of lower-spec models were in response to demands from its dealer network, which in recent months has been through a restructuring period in which the marque has severed ties with almost half its retail outlets and recruited other "high-calibre dealers to broaden the reach and service levels for customers".
"The dealers that Proton has been talking to wanted a bigger spread of models and an entry-level model that was a 'price starter', if you like, that would be an attraction to the sector," he said. "So it's really started with the bid to recruit better and stronger dealers."
The spokesperson said the Saga-based car would offer dual airbags and ABS brakes, as is the case with all models in the current range, and that equipment stripped from its remaining passenger lines to create new models variants – priced about $1000 lower than the current baseline – would be "cosmetic spec" such as power windows rather than safety features or essentials like air-conditioning.
Proton is counting on the new models resurrecting sales in Australia after a dismal first half in which it sold just 666 cars in six months to be down 35.8 per cent on the same period in 2008. The poor return over the first six months includes just 115 Savvy sales, 100 of Gen.2, 127 Persona sales and 97 from Satria.
Its biggest-selling vehicle is the Jumbuck ute, which has managed 227 sales year-to-date.
PCA managing director John Startari is in Malaysia finalising the Saga deal, but in a statement before his departure he said the combination of new specifications, improved manufacturing efficiencies and a stronger Australian dollar had allowed it to formulate a lower pricing structure across its range.
"Our plan is to champion the value proposition without sacrificing safety, quality and reliability, and that has been particularly attractive to the new dealers who we have been recruiting," he said.
"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."
In a message to existing and prospective dealers, as well as customers, Mr Startari emphasised that Proton had "a solid base on which to build its future expansion".
"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," he said.
"There are more than 25,000 Protons on Australian roads and we believe we can now take the brand to a higher level."
Suzuki's Alto arrives in August with a 50kW/90Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine and a high level of standard equipment including six airbags, ABS brakes, air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows and a CD/MP3 stereo. Electronic stability control will be available on a higher-spec model variant, but not on the sub-$13,000 baseline car.
Chinese compact cars from Great Wall Motors and Chery – to be distributed through Ateco Automotive – and Lifan were all scheduled to be introduced in Australia this year, but issues such as exchange rates and homologation have seen their expected launch dates pushed back to the first half of 2010.