The recently concluded annual Alami Proton event, which literally means “experience Proton”, teased the upcoming Proton Perdana and some exciting new concepts. Let’s take a look into the concept cars and see if they will work.
Alami Proton has been a salient occasion for Proton, allowing the national car maker to engage with the public through myriad of activities (ranging from car manufacturing, test drives and carnival sales). It also opens its door to prototypes and concepts that could well be their future models.
Proton unveiled the Iriz Activ concept at the same event last year. This year, apart from the sneak preview of the new Perdana, Proton showcased not one, but two new concepts – the Pickup concept and the Iriz EV.
In this article, we dissect all three concepts (including the Iriz Activ concept) to determine whether or not they should be made into production. Will they be a darling on Malaysian streets (like the Myvi) or just another prop doomed to be fated in Proton’s warehouse for many years to come?
1. Proton Pickup concept
The long abandoned Proton Arena should make its return via the Exora’s platform. Well that can happen with this pickup concept displayed during the event. First impression indicates this bespoke pick-up concept is clearly inspired from the Ford F-150 Raptor. The tough and macho aesthetic will definitely attract buyers as far as first impression goes.
You won’t be hard pressed to tell that this concept is based on the Exora platform, judging from the front and rear doors, including the A-pillar. A rear floor bed was incorporated at the back for extra cargo load.
Why it may work:
While the Proton Arena did not make much of an impact in Malaysia, it was a runaway hit in Australia. There, it was known as the Proton Jumpbuck, and its affordable pricing and low running costs made the Jumpbuck a shining success story for Proton beyond Malaysian shores.
Also to note, Proton’s export markets now need a massive boost. A Ute-type vehicle is perhaps what they need for markets like as Australia and Thailand. Surely, the cow herders from Anna Creek Station in South Australia would sign up for this jaunty looking Jumpbuck.
Why it may not work:
Just like the Exora, this pickup is likely to be front-wheel driven. To have a macho-looking pickup with front-wheel drive setting is like having Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson walking in a pair of Jimmy Choo.
The recipe for proper and desirable pickup is to have all-wheel drive and diesel powertrain. Up to this point, Proton has none of these. Developing these technologies is expensive and not feasible for a small-scale manufacturer like Proton.
Maybe, just maybe, Proton should make that call to its latest strategic partner, Suzuki, for assistance. But from what we know, Suzuki has yet to create a pickup a size of a Ford Ranger…
2. Proton Iriz Activ Mk2
The Iriz Activ is essentially the crossover version of the Iriz. Simply put, it’s a jacked up version of the Iriz which sits taller for better ground clearance. However, this incarnation is just a minor facelift when compared to the one displayed last year.
Why it may work:
With the success of the Honda HR-V and the hype surrounding the upcoming Mazda CX-3, B-segment crossovers are the way to go in Malaysia. Its tall ground clearance makes it ideal for traversing Malaysia’s diverse roads, be it potholes or flash floods. Most importantly, it’s a decent yet practical runabout for a small family.
Crossovers don’t necessarily need all-wheel drive or diesel engines, hence why it’s something Proton can realistically achieve with minimal effort given its current resources and parts bin. It’s a no-brainer for Proton to turn this into a revenue-generating product!
Why it may not work:
Not all crossovers are enjoying the success the HR-V has achieved. Case in point, the Ford Ecosport, Peugeot 2008 and Great Wall M4; these cars are hardly seen on the roads. In a price sensitive country like Malaysia, the Iriz Activ’s success will highly depend on the pricing of this car.
3. Proton Iriz EV
This is not something new but remains an interesting proposition should Proton be looking to introduce a product far different (and advanced) from its current breed of competitors – an affordable and practical Electric Vehicle (EV).
Why it may work:
The world of diesels has been on a setback recently, no thanks to Volkswagen’s recent “dieselgate” controversy which saw cities like London and Paris planning to ban diesel cars. This is where EV technology is at its advantage and Proton should capitalize on this by rubbing salt into diesel’s wounds!
A report from The Star mentioned that Tun Dr. Mahathir, former Prime Minister and current Chairman of Proton, is looking to export the Iriz EV to the European continent in the foreseeable future. We guess they should consider shipping the Iriz EV there as quickly as possible.
The Iriz EV’s range of 300km per charge is better than many electric cars, and is clearly something to shout about. That range is more than sufficient for a typical city-based Malaysian’s driving needs for a week! Also, if Proton were to successfully pull off a zero-emission vehicle, imagine the good it will bring to the country (read: more foreign investors) and our environment. Besides, EV owners will have the last laugh when petrol price increases from time to time.
Why it may not work:
EV’s Achilles heel has always been about the price, so the likeliest scenario – should the Iriz EV materialise – is that most Malaysians will consider an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) alternative. Case in point, Edaran Tan Chong Motor offers the Nissan Leaf at a throat-cutting RM180,566.18! There’s no price indication for the Iriz EV, but we reckon an asking price around the RM100,000 ballpark ensues.
Unless the Malaysian government provides incentives for EV cars just like in the UK, perhaps that will drive encouragement among price-conscious Malaysians. Even with the incentives granted, the Iriz EV could, at best, be carrying a price tag just a tap below RM100,000. Forking out that sum for a Malaysian supermini is nearly as comical as paying RM55 for a roti canai.
The success of EV is also dependent on its charging infrastructure, and this is currently concentrated in the Klang Valley, or more specifically in selected shopping malls/outlets. As more Electric Vehicles or Plug-in Hybrids like the BMW i8 and Renault Twizy make their way into Malaysia, there is a palpable need for this infrastructure to be made more accessible in the near future.
Concept cars don’t usually make it to production, especially when we’re in an era where accountants overrule ambitious designers and engineers when it comes to crafting a car. As for Proton, the company is still trailing behind Perodua and lacks the luxury to make costly mistakes. While the pickup truck idea is undoubtedly noble, it’s just not worth the effort as far as R&D money is concerned.
Meanwhile, seeing how well received the Iriz is at press time, maybe Proton should put more emphasis on capitalizing its popularity by introducing additional variants like the Iriz Activ crossover and Iriz EV. However, the wait may be much longer (or otherwise) than any of us can anticipate at this point in time, and it won’t be till 2017 where we can finally see such models running down Malaysian streets.
Next year will definitely be a busy year for Proton with the scheduled launches of three new important models – Perdana, Persona and Saga. Surely, things will get very interesting for Proton in the coming months.