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Proton powers forward

Rename: Gen.2 will become known as the Persona hatch in September.

Fresh product, new initiatives and joint-venture deals to secure Proton’s future

8 May 2008

PROTON’S re-born Persona is preceding a parade of new models, updates and additions that should drive the Malaysian car-maker to greater prominence in Australia over the next three years.

With an eye on the booming light and small-car segments in Australia, each model Proton offers here will undergo significant changes.

First up will be a revamped Gen.2 five-door hatch in September.

To be renamed Persona hatch, it picks up many of the exterior, interior and mechanical refinements wrought upon the Persona sedan that it initially begat.

These will include the revised instrumentation panel, engine management system for increased performance, headlights and bumpers, as well as the Persona’s keen pricing structure and long standard equipment levels.

The standard model – to be dubbed GX – gains a modified version of the current 1.6-litre CamPro twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine incorporating a new and more efficient inlet manifold design known as IAFM.

This engine’s 82kW power and 148Nm torque outputs are identical to today’s Gen.2’s unit, but the former occurs 500rpm higher at 6500rpm, while the latter’s maximum remains steady at 4000rpm.

A 93kW/150Nm version of this engine – with Proton’s CPS Cam Profile Switching – will also be offered. The most likely name for the Persona hatch with CPS is GXR.

In the first quarter of next year we should see the Savvy replacement.

43 center imageLeft: Persona GX, Satria R3, Saga and Savvy.

Called the Saga in Malaysia (but not for Australia), the latest Proton light car is a three-box four-door sedan of about Toyota Yaris sedan sizing, featuring a 1.3 and 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engines mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox. The latter replaces the Renault-sourced 1.2-litre four-cylinder unit (and optional automated manual gearbox) fitted to the Savvy.

Proton has extensively re-engineered the existing Savvy to turn it into the virtually all-new Saga, with almost every visible component coming in for a complete overhaul. This includes the drivetrain and interior, as well as the body.

Although the arrival of the Saga sedan will sound the death knell of the Savvy hatch in Australia, a Saga hatch that uses all the new bits designed and engineered for the sedan will eventually help sire a Savvy II – but this car is still in the early developmental stages and may not arrive for some time yet.

With a strong engine line-up and an expected high specification level, the Saga sedan will give Proton its best shot yet at the $14,000 light-car segment in Australia.

Also due in the early months of next year is Proton’s Satria R3.

Standing for ‘Race, Rally and Research’ and previewed this year at the Melbourne International Motor Show, the R3 is a Satria with a sporty makeover. It is yet to be formally signed off for production.

As the spiritual replacement for the lamented 1999—2006 Satria GTI, this pocket-rocket Proton will most probably be powered by a forced-induction version of the CamPro 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, although some pundits are also predicting a new 1.8-litre powerplant.

Proton isn’t saying, but the turbo installation might be joined by a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox – but perhaps not initially. Pricing is expected to be in the $27,000 to $30,000 region, with the Volkswagen Polo GTI and Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart acting as the Satria R3’s performance benchmarks.

The R3 will become the sole Satria model on offer, as the model launched in early 2006 struggles to compete on price in a small-car market that Proton has identified as moving away from premium three-door hatchbacks.

Nevertheless, the company says the halo effect of offering an exciting hot hatch proves that it is not just about low prices.

“Probably our most loved model was a $30,000 sports hatch,” says Proton Cars Australia managing director John Startari.

Meanwhile, the successful Jumbuck is expected to come in for a revamp sometime towards the end of 2009 or in early 2010.

It is still unclear whether Proton will spin the new compact pick-up off the new Saga sedan platform, or enter into a joint-venture partnership with another manufacturer such as Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC), Renault or Nissan.

However, a Proton insider assured GoAuto late last year that the Jumbuck II will be “more truck like” in appearance and stance, suggesting that the latter option might be the more likely one.

As Australia is the world’s biggest market for the current, Mitsubishi CC Lancer-based front-wheel drive two-door utility, the odds are stacked against Proton investing in a bespoke model just for our modest volumes, which averaged around 70 per month last year.

Moving up the range, we will see an all-new people-mover from the Malaysians.

The still-secret low-roofed seven-seater is somewhat in the style of the Toyota Avensis and Honda Odyssey size-wise, and boasts a 2+3+2 row arrangement.

Details are still sketchy, but a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine from a joint-venture partner – again most likely MMC – is thought to be the engine that Proton is considering.

Rumours have circulated since Proton ceased talks with Volkswagen last year that MMC will supply more than just engines to the Malaysians.

Although denied by Proton’s Australia, overseas speculation suggests that Mitsubishi’s existing Grandis may form the basis for the forthcoming Proton people mover, while – in the not-too-distant future – the Mitsubishi Lancer might even come under consideration to replace the ageing (and discontinued in Australia) Waja small car.

Further down the track, a variation of the current Mitsubishi Outlander may finally give Proton a much-needed entrant in the buoyant compact SUV segment.

Mr Startari refused to comment on any speculation regarding future relationships between Proton and MMC or Renault/Nissan, except to say that the company may investigate joint-venture partnerships for its less-volume orientated models some time in the future.

Proton’s new-model timeline:
Persona sedan May 2008
Persona hatch September 2008
Saga Savvy replacement March 2009
Satria R3 March 2009
MPV people-mover late 2009
Jumbuck II Ute 2009/10
Waja replacement 2010
Mid-sized sedan 2011
Compact SUV 2012

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