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Proton CEO Datuk Abdul Harith Abdullah has said that over the years, the national carmaker has lost its value for money advantage over foreign brands, as the recent popularity of longer loan tenures – stretching as long as nine years – has enabled customers to stretch to more expensive vehicles.

Harith told the media that back when loan periods were shorter, Proton garnered a big advantage in sales – capturing as much as 60% of the domestic market – but the relative affordability of more expensive cars nowadays, in addition to its failure in capturing the lucrative B-segment market, has eroded that advantage.

“We’ve lost that value for money factor because the affordability of cars has spread,” he said. “We failed to capture this segment, as it would demand better attention from the brand.”

He also lamented the fact that people were buying vehicles from other brands despite their inferior safety kit and lower equipment levels. “We need to analyse that. We are giving the best in terms of performance, safety and equipment. Six airbags, five-star ANCAP safety rating – all this, since 2012. We put everything in the car,” he said.

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Harith added that because of the brand’s negative perception, buyers do not even want to test drive Proton models, let alone buy them, so they do not actually know what the brand’s newest vehicles like the Preve, Suprima S and Iriz are like to drive. “You need to test drive these models, because it’s proven, when you test drive, the conversion to buy is very high,” he said.

This sentiment is the driving force behind the company’s new It’s in the Drive campaign, encouraging people to drive its new cars to experience them for themselves, rather than relying on long-held prejudices. It’s also why the company is currently holding a Test Drive and Win contest, with those who take a Proton for a spin being eligible to win prizes, including a Suprima S if they end up booking.

Harith said that the company was struggling under the National Automotive Policy (NAP), as well as the maximum car hire purchase period being increased from five years to nine. “If the government or Bank Negara decides to shorten car financing to a maximum of five years, you will see a big drastic change of our sales figures. I’m quite certain about that.

“I do not think car hire purchase plans should be stretched to nine years. If the payment is stretched that long, when you decide to sell the car after two years, you’ll have to pay more to the bank before you can change your car,” he said.