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Proton's R3 sports range gathers pace

Sick Savvy: R3 version of Proton's new light hatch looks set for Oz.

Proton's new performance division could be just months away from Australian shores

24 Mar 2006

PROTON Cars Australia (PCA) is working to have a high-performance specialist vehicle division operational within seven months.

The division will be based on the Lotus Sport franchise set up in other countries but is expected to be called R3 in Australia based on the Malaysian car manufacturer’s "Race, Rally, Research" motorsport program.

PCA managing director John Startari told GoAuto last week that the company was in negotiations with headquarters in Kuala Lumpur to "try and do something similar with R3 where we can do R3 modifications locally".

He said the company could take ready-made bodykits from Malaysia but would prefer to perform R3 engine modifications in Australia.

"We’d like to have that set up by October but it is too early to see if that’s achievable," he said.

Mr Startari said the success of the new Savvy five-door was considered a catalyst for the R3 project. If the Savvy proves a hit, then PCA’s parent would be more inclined to fast-track the arrival of some hero cars under the R3 banner.

He also said the R3 brand could be adopted across all models in the Proton range, including the new Savvy light car (launched last week and on sale next month), the current Gen.2 and the forthcoming new-generation Satria due to arrive around October.

"We’re looking at developing an R3 Gen.2 (and) an R3 Savvy has been created as far as aesthetics but the engine modifications need to be assessed in terms of emissions," Mr Startari said.

"Satria is (also) obviously a prime target for us as far as R3 is concerned." The modest Malaysian brand has previously said it wanted to follow the path of Subaru and its STi division in offering high-performance models that enhanced the brand message.

Apart from bodykits and engines, the cars would gain suspension performance modifications.

For the forthcoming Satria hatchback, a high-performance 1.6-litre GTi three-door model slated for release as part of the "mainstream" range is expected to form the basis of an R3 model.

43 center imageLeft: Savvy R3 and Lotus APX concept (below).

Although few details have emerged about the GTi, Proton is believed to have set a "benchmark" of 140kW for the hot hatch.

Borrowing styling cues from the Audi A3 and Alfa Romeo 147, the Satria will be significantly bigger than the previous car, better equipped, have vastly improved quality levels and, for the GTi, may use Eibach competition springs.

Entry models will use the 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine seen in the Gen.2.

The previous 103kW/164Nm 1.8-litre GTi was last sold in Australia in 2004. It established itself as a low-cost cult car among enthusiasts and remains a sought-after second-hand vehicle.

PCA general manager of sales and marketing Steve Thomas said Proton Australia was aiming for sustained growth over the next five years.

It aims to sell 4000 vehicles in Australia this year, a significant lift above last year’s 2164 sales, on the back of new releases.

"We believe the figures are quite conservative but we want to grow steadily and not over-promise and under-deliver," he said. "Our market share for 2006 is not bullish by any stretch of the imagination." Mr Thomas said he believed Proton would have a "progressive growth curve" over the next five years.

By 2007 Proton Australia expects to lift sales to between 6500 and 7000 annually off the back of the facelifted Gen.2, which is due to arrive in 2007.

In 2008, a new-generation Jumbuck utility will arrive, which should lift volumes further.

The company’s product plan aims for more than 10,000 vehicles by 2009 when a new 4WD and a people-mover arrive.

"I don’t think it’s a bullish objective for 12,000 units in 2010," Mr Thomas said.

Geneva crossover has a Lotus badge - for now...

THE awesome Lotus Aluminium Performance Crossover (APX) unveiled at the recent Geneva motor show could eventually morph into a Proton.

Proton Cars Australia chief John Startari, who is also responsible for the Lotus brand Down Under, said the APX’s shape, which had a lot of input from Proton, was purely a physical form to highlight the Lotus engineering efforts underneath.

"Proton had a lot of input into the look, however, the platform will be Lotus," he said. "They are looking for a technology partner or investor to come in to develop it." Although the technology was heavily derived from Lotus engineering, Mr Startari said the car could emerge as a Proton at some stage.

"Anything is possible," he said. "It was one of many concepts Proton currently invested in and has on the shelf." Given that such a seven-seat people-mover model has been factored in for Proton within two years, the APX appears closer to production than management is letting on.

At this stage, the Proton version is not anticipated to get the APX’s aluminium construction, nor its supercharged 224kW/360Nm 3.0-litre V6 mated to an all-wheel drive system.

But an R3 APX might. Stay tuned.

What's coming from proton:

All-new Satria hatch - October
Satria GTi - 2007
Perdana V6 large car - 2007
All-new Jumbuck utility - 2008
All-new Waja - 2008
Large people-mover - 2009
4WD wagon - 2009

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