Proton… What a Miss…!

In a market that’s long been dominated by the Big 3 Japanese players (Suzuki, Toyota, and Honda) it’s understandable for any newcomer, particularly with a non-Japanese origin to suffer in Pakistan. But considering how well South Korean and Chinese players have performed in recent years has pretty much defied this popular notion.

While we have seen many brands fade away from the market over the past few decades as a result of their failures, Malaysian Proton’s recent example may stand the tallest; despite having the best possible products and unmatched endorsements, they were unable to turn it to their advantage.

Related: Remembering the Proton Gen-2

Proton first stepped into our market in 2006 partnered with Royal Automobiles with the launch of Saga LMST, Gen-2, Impian, and Waja, all offered as CBUs. However within a couple of years, with Gen-2 as their bestseller, Proton was forced to leave the market due to the massive devaluation of currency value against the US Dollar (crashed from Rs 60 to Rs 80 against $1) in 2008 which saw an exponential increase in the prices of imported cars, resulting in a sharp decline in sales of CBUs.

A decade later, the Malaysian automaker returned to the picture in August 2018 when the new Auto Policy was attracting a lot of foreign investment in the automotive sector. This time around, Proton partnered with Al-Haj Group which was already struggling with its passenger car venture with FAW of China. But Proton came with a bang like no other automobile brand could have ever imagined.

This time Proton announced the construction of a plant in Karachi, its first in the region as the company wanted to take the CKD route instead of CBUs. According to the then-Proton Chairman Faisal Albar, Pakistan would become Proton’s gateway to penetrate other countries. The signing ceremony was held in the presence of Dr Mahatir Mohammad, who was not only the Prime Minister of Malaysia at that time but also widely known as the founding father of the Proton brand.

Mahathir who was also present in Pakistan for the ceremony expressed his confidence that Proton will be highly successful in Pakistan. Moreover, the Malaysian Prime Minister also gifted a Proton X70 to the then-Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. This was the highest possible endorsement any automobile brand could ever get, given that both leaders were considered the most celebrated personalities in their respective countries.

Proton X70 Final Picture 1 696x464

Later that year (December 2019), Mahathir’s gifted Proton X70 was handed over to the Pakistan government in a ceremony held at the Malaysian High Commission in Islamabad. Then was the Muslim brotherly country connection touted in the media that sparked emotional sentiments among many people who wanted to have their hands on Proton cars just because of being a product of a brotherly Islamic nation, not to mention the X70 is actually a rebadged Geely Boyue of China with some minor cosmetic differences only, and is as Chinese as any other Chinese SUV in our market.

Related: Geely has New Plans for Proton’s Homegrown Models

The beginning of the year 2020 saw economic activities worldwide coming to a complete halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This affected the progress of most existing players as well as newcomers including Proton. However in the later part of that year, activities resumed and many new vehicles were introduced in Pakistan including the Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Tucson, DFSK Glory 580 Pro, and Changan Alsvin but Proton failed to do so.

Due to its own mishaps, Proton was never in a position to launch its cars in 2020, but still, it did so by launching the X70 SUV in December 2020 and started collecting bookings committing that the deliveries of the limited number of CBU units would begin soon, while the CKD units will see their deliveries beginning from April 2021.

Related: 3 Years of Proton Saga in Pakistan

However, instead of delivering the CKD units of X70 in April, Proton launched the Saga sedan that month and started collecting its bookings too. All this happened when the Proton plant in Karachi wasn’t even ready. The EDB (Engineering Development Board) team visited the Proton plant and issued the manufacturing certificate in September 2021 which raised genuine questions as to why the vehicles were launched in December 2020 and April 2021 when the plant was not in a ready position to assemble & deliver the vehicles.

Proton Saga Pakistan launch 1 850x451 1

Remember that for every other assembler, line-off ceremonies and trial production took place months before the official car launch to ensure the manufacturer had enough inventory for whenever sales started. Surprisingly, Proton skipped this simple recipe too.

Related: The Bubble Launch of Proton Saga

Further dent was caused by the lockdowns enforced in Malaysia in June 2021, due to which the CKD shipments met enormous delays leaving the customers in further despair. The situation was further deteriorated with the flood in Malaysia which disrupted Proton’s supply chain badly. But all this was purely the company’s own fault and the customers had nothing to do with it, but Proton brazenly slapped all the subsequent price hikes to the customers who already made full payments and were anxiously waiting to get their vehicles delivered.

Proton Saga X70

The prices of Proton X70 and Saga were doubled by 2022 with deliveries not in sight. Apart from a handful of Saga customers, the majority of those who booked Proton cars are yet to get the deliveries even in 2024. Today even after more than 3 years of presence in the market, a Proton car running on local roads is a very unusual sight.

Proton protest

As a result of delivery failures and unfair price increases that were blatantly imposed on those waiting for deliveries even after making full payments, there were numerous protests on social media and large demonstrations outside of various Proton dealerships. Bear in mind Proton has increased the prices by 112% (which means more than double the original price) without delivering the vehicles.

Proton bounce Alhaj

Several owners canceled their reservations, but they are still having trouble receiving their payment back because the company’s cheques bounce due to not having enough funds in the account. Proton’s reputation in the market suffered even more as a result, albeit much of this is to be blamed on its local partner Al-Haj Group.

Proton appeal

The affected customers also appealed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Chief Justice, and the Chief of Army Staff to intervene, expressing their suffering in a large press advertisement that appeared in leading newspapers, calling on the country’s most powerful people in charge to take action against the company.

Related: Proton Lost Another Major Dealership in Pakistan

Moreover, during the last few months, about half a dozen authorized dealerships have ended their ties with Proton citing a lack of information & clarity regarding delivery dates for vehicles reserved as far out as 2020, repeated price hikes despite late deliveries, and price revisions even after receiving full customer payments.

saga 3

Interestingly, Proton’s official website still shows all 6 dealerships that have ended relationships with the Malaysian automaker, rendering the fact that the website hasn’t been updated for ages. The same goes for their official social handles, when other automakers are busy engaging with their customers, sharing important updates about their products, celebrating festivals & occasions, and giving various offers & discounts, Proton’s social handles remain hauntingly inactive.

Related: With 10,000 Units Export Target, Will Proton Bring the S70 to Pakistan?

Although Saga is sort of an outdated offering, the X70 is probably one of the best SUVs available in the market in terms of tech, features & equipment, performance, and fuel consumption. However, it was a missed opportunity since the product was excellent and Proton obtained multiple high-level endorsements and support, still the automaker failed miserably to make these vehicles, especially the X70, a success in our market.

Proton X70 Saga

As of putting down this article, there is no update regarding the delivery status of X70, whereas only a handful of Saga units are being delivered, that too of the Ace variant only. According to some unofficial reports, Proton’s plant has not been in operation for several months. Though some Proton employees on social media reject this claim, even if we believe the facility is operational, the huge number of pending deliveries and a lack of activity at its dealerships largely undermine their assertion.

Related: The Good & the Bad Launch

Considering the circumstances, it would possibly require a miracle for the Proton brand to bounce back and compete in the Pakistani market. However, it is undoubtedly one of the most regrettable instances in which a superb product was squandered as a result of inconsiderate business conduct of its local partner, and moreover Proton’s lack of interest in the Pakistani market and its inability to resolve the core issues in more than three years.

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