A complete mindset change must precede Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd’s (Proton) plans to recover lost ground in Malaysia.

The company seems to be pining for a return to its glory days when it held pole position in terms of market share back then when it was the most-sold car in the country at one time.

Indeed in this area, Proton is ambitious as ever and its plans had been clearly articulated by its chief executive officer Li Chunrong during a casual lunch with the press earlier in the week.

Speaking with a moderately accented English, Li proclaimed during the impromptu lunch meeting with the press that the company wants to be No. 1 in its home market once again and will move up the value chain.

Li says that he expects the Proton SUV to eventually beat the popular Honda CR-V.

“In mainland China, the Boyue (of which is the Proton SUV is based on) consistently outsells the Japanese marques,” Li says.

While not yet confirmed, there have been rumours flying about on social and mobile media that the Proton-SUV would be priced very competitively at below the RM100,000 mark.

Honda’s CR-V is priced from RM134,000.

Li also boldly says that the company does not see Perodua as a competitor anymore but rather the likes of Honda.

However, analysts say that a mindset change among Malaysian buyers is key to turning the situation around for Proton.

“While the pricing proposition is important, the company would also need to show that they are offering value to the Malaysian people.

“They would need to change the mindset that had been associated with the Proton brand name which had been affected due to legacy issues,” an automotive observer says.

“Also note that the Malaysian people today are generally more well off compared to the period when Proton was first launched when Japan’s Mitsubishi was its minority joint venture partner.

“So there are several factors at play other than price but they can win back market share if they are able to restore the brand name,” he adds.

Li also says that the company would like to put more focus on improving its exports and has regional ambitions for the Asean market.

“Malaysia is a small country, if you compare it with the size of the China market, the population size is only like a province. So we have to set our eyes on the export market.

“We are expecting to increase exports by four times thus far from a small 250 last year,” Li says.

“This year, I forecast we will export more than 1,000 Proton cars. But this is not enough for us,” he adds.

It was reported earlier in the week that Proton has resumed exports to the Middle East, marking the first time it has done so since formalising its partnership with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

The first shipment of 453 cars will arrive in Aqaba in Jordan where they will then be distributed to Iraq and other neighbouring countries.

Indeed, the Middle East may be the key to improving Proton’s export numbers because of the common Islamic market theme.

Li said in a statement earlier that the demand for cars from this region is anticipated to grow and will help boost its export markets.

However, he notes that the Asean market will still remain the main priority for Proton’s export business.

In the domestic market, the infusion of new ideas into Proton and different approaches to doing things may help the company move to its next level.

Its immediate plans to improve its brand and after-sales service, could see its fortunes turning around sooner rather than later.

As Li says: “To improve the brand, we do not talk but we show it with our actions.” – thestaronline

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