Will the Iriz save Proton?

Proton launched the Iriz last Thursday in a bid to reclaim market share from the other domestic carmaker, Perodua, and help the ailing national automaker get back on its feet. The Iriz, a compact car with a 1.3-litre or 1.6-litre engine, took four years and US$172 million to develop, and Proton’s Chief Executive, Abdul Harith Abdullah, has touted the Iriz as a “game changer”. During the launch at the company’s plant in Perak, Abdul Harith said, “We will continue to forge ahead to restore Proton’s glory days as the leader of the industry.”

While Proton cars once dominated the Malaysian auto industry and the country’s roads, its market share shriveled after perceptions (or was it ‘reality’?) of bad quality plagued the marque (read also: Malaysians not keen on made-in-Malaysia cars). Perodua overtook Proton in 2006 to become the top selling car brand in Malaysia and remained there ever since. While Perodua sold 196,100 cars last year, Proton sold only 138,753.

The Iriz has an entry price of US$13,000 and goes up to US$19,300 for the highest specs. This puts it in direct competition with the MyVi, Perodua’s bestseller and the leader of the affordable car category for nearly a decade, and Proton is counting on the Iriz to help it improve on last year’s sales, for a 2014 sales target of 160,000 units.

Some industry analysts believe that the Iriz is competitive enough for the market, and thus will boost sales and subsequently fund the company’s development of future models. Proton is already working with South Korea’s LG Electronics to develop an electric version of the Iriz, which was revealed when the Malaysian Minister of Trade and Industry, Mustapa Mohamed, uploaded pictures of the prototype on his Facebook page, taken during his visit to the LG Electronic’s R&D centre in Seoul. He remarked that the car can travel up to 240 kilometres on a single charge; in comparison, the Nissan Leaf can cover less than 200 kilometres. This latest development by Proton is no surprise after the new National Automotive Policy, announced in January, offered incentives amounting to RM2 billion for the local production of energy-efficient vehicles.

Mustapa Mohamed inspecting the Iriz EV prototype

Mustapa Mohamed inspecting the Iriz EV prototype
However, let’s not forget that Proton still has to deal with the albatross around its neck – the public’s perception of its poor quality. Even the well-reviewed and award-winning Proton Preve and Proton Suprima achieved lacklustre sales figures (read also: Proton to change strategy). We have also not forgotten the predecessor to the Iriz, the Savvy, which had a short-lived production spanning between 2005 to 2010, during which there was an across-the-board recall of all Savvy’s built from 2005 until 2007 for ball bearing contamination. Proton attempted to overcome its reputation for poor quality then as well, most notably with this poorly conceptualised advertisement, which was as unconvincing then as it is today:

If the video doesn’t load, click here.

So, will it be different this time with the Iriz? Well, to stand a fighting chance, it has to be relatively cheap (check) and relatively trouble-free (hmm…we’ll see). Good luck, Proton.

image: proton-edar.com.my, facebook.com

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