Proton’s search for a strategic foreign partner has courted interest from the PSA Group, Renault and Suzuki, according to Reuters. The report quotes sources familiar with the matter – who declined to be identified due to the confidential nature of the subject – as saying that parent company DRB-Hicom is looking to sell a stake in the national carmaker, despite the former denying that it will completely relinquish control.
The PSA Group’s bid appears to be the most serious of them all. “Peugeot confirms it is responding to a request for proposals initiated by Proton and its shareholder,” a PSA spokesman told the news agency, although he declined to clarify what the actual response will be, or what Proton’s proposals entailed.
Suzuki and Renault has also reportedly responded, after Proton sent proposals to nearly 20 companies earlier this year, said one source. Officials from both carmakers declined to speak on the matter.
The Request for Proposal (RFP) exercise in seeking a permanent partner that is a strategic, operational and cultural fit is part of the terms of the government’s RM1.5 billion soft loan, which it approved in April. This exercise is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2017, and its implementation is being overseen by a task force committee formed by the government to monitor the progress of Proton’s turnaround.
For its part, DRB-Hicom has said that it is “highly committed to hold [sic] a substantial and strategic stake” in the national carmaker, and is confident of the Proton’s turnaround plan. At the launch of the new Persona last month, group CEO Datuk Seri Syed Faisal Albar said, “DRB-Hicom will continue to hold a strategic stake in Proton. We will definitely not sell 100%.”
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But the industrial conglomerate has yet to completely rule out selling a majority stake in Proton, according to Reuters‘ sources, and may also consider selling Proton’s long-time subsidiary, British sports car manufacturer Lotus. Neither Proton nor DRB-Hicom immediately responded to requests for comment.
The deal is said to remain attractive even with Proton’s mounting losses and current sales slump, as potential suitors will be able to leverage on the company’s under-utilised manufacturing capacity.
The Shah Alam, Medium Volume Factory (MVF) and Tanjung Malim plants are capable of producing up to 400,000 cars a year, but Proton only sold 102,175 cars last year. Sources said that companies could build their cars in Proton’s facelities and export them across the burgeoning ASEAN market.
Proton has had a chequered past with all three potential partners – it has collaborated with Citroën to produce the AX-based Tiara, then used Renault engines and gearboxes on the Waja 1.8X and the Savvy. It is currently in a joint venture with Suzuki, the first fruits of which will be revealed next month in the form of a rebadged Suzuki Ertiga MPV.