After 18 long years since they last sold their car (the Proton Wira) in the South American continent, Proton Holdings Berhad is ready to set its foot in a growing left-hand drive market. As of today, 50 units of Proton Preve (Premium CVT, CFE variant) have been shipped to San Antonio, Chile, the first of 1,000 units to be introduced throughout this year.
The shipment takes approximately 42 days to reach the Chilean port in San Antonio, and this entire export operation was made possible when Chile and Malaysia signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) dating back to 25 February 2012. Then, on 1 July 2015, a Distributor Agreement was signed between Proton and Andes Motor (more on this company below). With that, the Malaysian government granted Proton a six percent exemption of import duty.
So, how is the Chilean car market really like? The relatively small but long country has a population of about 17.6 million – about half that of Malaysia, and its Total Industry Volume (TIV) is about 330,000 units strong (passenger cars only), and growing. The top three most popular car brands in Chile, interestingly, are Hyundai, Kia and Chevrolet. However, the American carmaker has been at the top of the sales chart for 33 consecutive years, but is slowly losing its ground to fresh new models produced by Toyota, Peugeot, Nissan (including Infiniti) and Ford.
It’s undoubtedly a tough market for Proton to tap into, but according to Proton Chairman, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, it was Andes Motor, a subsidiary of the Kaufmann Group who came forth with great interest to sell Proton cars in Chile. This partnership makes Proton the very first car brand to be sold under the stewardship of Andes Motor, a company which imports and distributes buses and trucks made by Chinese manufacturers Foton, Maxus and Golden Dragon.
Proton isn’t a strange brand in Chile, having sold over 3,000 units of cars between 1994 and 1998. However, the strategy this time around is to offer the Preve (Premium CVT variant) as its debut model, which will later be joined by the non-CFE variants. It will be priced at USD17,000 (or close to 12 million Chilean pesos) The Proton Evora and Saga will also be offered – the latter in November this year, but Proton has confirmed that the Saga will not be that of the new model. Proton CEO, Dato’ Abdul Harith Abdullah explained that the upcoming Saga hasn’t gone through development for Left-Hand Drive (LHD) conversion, but stressed that it will be offered soonest as possible.
Both Chile-bound Preve and Exora models will officially be launched in May this year. Proton is still in talks with its Bangladeshi counterpart (Bangladesh has a population of over 170 million), and this expansion includes the setting up of a CKD plant, however its exact location remains unknown at press time. The plant will be manned by Bangladeshis, and this should give Proton a favourable incentive for creating job opportunities.
Dato’ Harith also said, “We are positive that this is the beginning of many more opportunities to go global, especially after completing the new engine programme which will meet more stringent European regulations. We will continue building good cars and carry out product improvements so that we won’t just do better in our home turf, but improve our global presence as well.”
This leaves us with Proton’s latest model, the Iriz. Like the Saga, Proton is all about making its latest supermini a global product, although a specific timeframe has yet to be announced.
With a range of new engines and UK re-entry planned for the next 48 months, it seems that Proton is really serious about putting themselves back on the world map once again. The global automotive market is a thriving bubble, and it’s only a matter of time before the world’s collective car sales breach the 90 million mark; 70 percent of which are contributed by left-hand drive markets. Maybe this time, things may just play in favour for Proton. Buena suerte, Proton!