In terms of automotive history Proton is a relative newcomer, having been established in 1983 by the Malaysian government and a consortium of businesses as a national project to develop and build a 'people's car'.
The new company's mission was to become a successful global automotive engineering and manufacturing company by being customer oriented and producing competitively priced and innovative products.
This meant designing, engineering, manufacturing and selling motor vehicles, related products and services, including accessories, spare parts and other components for the domestic and global markets.
This initial vision grew to the stage where today, Proton cars are available on most of the world's markets.
Proton's entry into the South African market is more recent. Locally, Pearl Automotive is the importer and distributor of Proton, Bentley and Lotus vehicles, and of Land Rover products for certain Sub-Saharan markets. Pearl Automotive is part of Associated Motor Holdings, a full subsidiary of Imperial Holdings Limited, which is SA's largest automotive group.
"Proton's retail operation started in October 2005 with five dealerships in Gauteng," says Albert Venter, managing director of Pearl Automotive. "The operation was hampered slightly by a restricted quantity of stock as imports had just begun landing in the country, but a proactive decision was taken to launch the brand."
"From January 2006 fairly rapid expansion took place with an increasing inflow of larger volumes of units," he says. "The Proton network has now grown to 25 dealers across the country, with more to be appointed in the near future."
For the global market, Proton produces 10 model ranges in two factories - one at Proton's head office in Shah Alam and the second at Proton City in Tanjung Malim.
Sister company Lotus has played a significant role in the design and development of the engines and powertrains, the chassis dynamics and suspension components of Proton vehicles. Lotus has a long history of designing exciting and stylish race cars, and many European-designed engines have Lotus's expertise behind them.
The four local models include the Gen2 hatchback, which was the first model offered; the Arena half-ton bakkie; the Savvy entry level vehicle; and now proving very popular is the Satria Neo, where every unit is snapped up as soon as it lands.
Currently negotiations are underway with a future partner - rumoured to be Volkswagen - and that should spawn a number of new models as well if the talks come to fruition.
When it comes to used vehicles, Proton volumes are currently extremely low as most Proton vehicles are only a year-and-a-half old or younger.
New Protons come with fully backed warranties and service plans. For example, the Savvy has a three-year/60&nbso;000 km warranty and three-year roadside assistance, and the Sport includes a sports body kit and a two-year/ 45 000 km service plan. The Gen2 and the Satria Neo come with three-year/60 000 km warranties, three-year/75 000 km service plan, and three-year unlimited distance roadside assistance.
"These warranties and service plans remain in force when the vehicles are sold as used vehicles and the outstanding balance is transferred to the new owner," says Bradley Liebenberg, general manager, sales and marketing, Proton SA. "This shows we fully endorse the products we sell and have full confidence in them."
In addition, Proton Financial Services offers customers a range of packages from financing and insuring the product to extended warranties and service plans up to six years/150 000 km. A motor plan conversion facility is being developed and will soon be available.
All Proton dealers have a service facility, so all service and breakdown issues can be resolved anywhere in SA by fully trained Proton technicians and service staff. All Proton vehicles are covered by the three-year AA Roadside Assist plan that assures the vehicles will be towed to the nearest Proton dealership in an emergency.
Will the business principles Proton has applied on the global front help the company make inroads into the SA market as well? It certainly seems like it.