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    How Proton Should Aggressively Penetrate The Global Market

    My take on how it should be done.

    Image | Wikipedia

    Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional or Proton; once a bundle of joy for Malaysia;  has downplayed its crescendo in the local car scene.  The brand was like a baby to most Malaysians when it was launched back in 1985 with the brand being nestled in the heart of the local automotive players.

    I had a crush on Proton Saga when Tun Mahathir officiated the launch of Saga; I was in Standard 5 at that time. The light green metallic Saga has made a deep impression on the 11-year-old kampung boy in Perlis. The brand has no curvaceous body of a Lamborghini Miura or a sexy body language of a Ferrari 599 GTB or the majestic-looking Phantom, but the high dosage of patriotism made me want to own a Proton and work in the conglomerate (which I later did in 1999 after I finished my Master’s Degree and worked in Usahasama  PROTON-DRB and later known as Proton Edar.

    Proton Saga Image | New Straits Times

    I also rallied and raced in Proton Tiara, Proton Putra, and Proton Satria GTi, and up till now I still own a Proton Satria GTi Rally Specs. I was also working closely with the Head of the Homologation and Testing Division, Mr. Tengku Azizan, and was involved as one of the main Precision & Stunt Drivers when Proton.

    However, the downward trend of Proton sparked when critics put so much pressure on its build quality, after-sales as well as because of the influx of Korean brands. The situation has given such an impact on the sales of PROTON and therefore the market capitalisation has begun to lose its original status quo and the hybrid paradoxical feelings of patriotism and customer satisfaction were among the key factors people are moving away from the national brand.

    From an outsider’s point of view, I think Proton ought to deploy the right product planning with the target of non-Malaysian markets. Proton’s market capitalisation for Passenger Cars in Malaysia somewhat has been saturated and within the Proton segments, various brands and models are coming in if Proton is trying to play within Malaysia, it will not be viable and I truly believe that Proton will have an uphill battle should it intend to play with the current strategy.

    Proton must develop cars to penetrate out-of-Malaysia markets and must rely on world-class designers. If Malaysia has chosen Hermann Tilke for Sepang then Proton should try to play the same tune to reposition and rebrand Proton.

    With my little knowledge in Product Planning and Branding; product planning and branding are not merely about advertisements and the development of new products but the character and the compliance of the soul of the new Proton must match its competitors and peers.

    The product planning must begin with the benchmarking of the current and future competitors in terms of the build quality; and one of the most visible items are the instrument panels or popularly known as the dashboard, door panels, the material of the steering wheel and its touch-and-feel as well as the material of the seats; and the touch-and-feel of the suppleness of the seats will also give the feel-good factor and the perceived value of the car.

    Image | Zigwheels Malaysia

    To obtain such a level, the vendors must work closely with Proton and execute their very own high dosage of R&D systems and must try to offer something better and beyond the parameter of Proton’s requirement. I presume most of the vendors are looking at the economies of scale for the cost to implement good R&D and the whole Proton business ecosystem must now try to look beyond Malaysia and Asia Pacific markets. The goal, I think should be the global market, but the level of quality and benchmarking, as said earlier, must also be at the global-player level.

    Just look at how the Koreans have progressed and with the pool of engineers and brains behind our beloved Proton, Proton could be one of the global players too.

    As for branding – it cannot be only by local TV stations and local events and relying on existing dealers and branches. Proton should move outside of Malaysia as the Total Industry Volume is much bigger and Proton must target European and US markets – the engine starts now and the target could be within 3-4 years down the road where Proton will be parked in most of the US houses and some sexy European towns.

    I would like to suggest that the market penetration strategy of Proton into the European markets must be meticulously orchestrated under a new division such as Proton Team Europe and the branding, and promotional strategies will be placed within the buying patterns of the European, study of the preferred colours, the lifestyle as well as the customers‘ expectations and their perceived values on things.

    Image | Paul Tan

    Proton Team Europe will undergo the study of the market environments and the team must also rejuvenate brand awareness within the European context. The future Proton models may be manufactured in Malaysia but the market study, the design, the customer behaviour, the quality benchmarking, the suspension compliances and setup as well as the information gathering must come from one of the biggest car markets – Europe, USA and probably China.

    The product planning, the branding and the sales will be easier if we could gather solid data from the right sampling this is not a rocket science kind of exercise but a simple but tedious and meticulous one. Therefore incessant research and study have got to be thoroughly carried out by the team.

    The cars should be launched somewhere in Spain, Geneva and Paris, and Proton must be firm in their product planning and do not dilly-dally between sedan, hatchback or sporty. The full supply chain of the branding evolution must be well-orchestrated right from the way we treat the customers and the way our products (Proton treat the customers vis-a-vis the customer and product experience.

    The powerplants and transmissions are a volume game playing field. I believe that Proton needs a much bigger range of family engines such as turbo diesel, below 1.0cc, above 2.0cc and so on as well as benchmarking on the product and build quality.

    Proton is and will always be in my mind and my heart. The spirit of achievement could always be the underlying tagline. With a true Malaysian spirit and a true petrol head, I always pray that Proton will be in the top 5 of the world’s best customer-survey satisfaction index by 2025; and in my humble opinion, if we could produce a car, whether it’s a sports car, a sedan, an MPV or even a compact car, that benchmark will mark that Proton is already a truly global player.

    God willing.

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    An entrepreneur, business coach, rally, and race driver with a passion for entrepreneurs and talent development. A certified business & leadership coach, a part-time motoring journalist, and an automotive TV host.He served in various automotive companies, including PROTON, DRB-HICOM, General Motors, Kleemann, and KIA; gained experience in branding and international sales & marketing while serving in Rayong Thailand, Copenhagen Denmark, Singapore, Europe, and the ASEAN markets.He provides Business & Leadership Coaching, Corporate Training, Advanced & Performance Driving Classes, and Talents Development programs. You can email him via the given link.Currently a Board of Director of KEJORA Holdings and a Director at TIC (TAJ International College) and he sits on board a few other SMEs as a Corporate Advisor.

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