It’s still early days in Proton’s partnership with Geely, but the latter already has a few rough ideas of what it has in store for the Malaysian carmaker. The most pressing part of the agenda would be to plot a sustainable future for Proton, on which the Chinese conglomerate will collaborate with co-owner DRB-Hicom.

Speaking with reporters after the signing of the definitive agreement today, Geely chairman Li Shufu said, “We want to turn Proton and Lotus into profitable companies, and for their development to be sustainable moving forward. For Proton, we hope that we can help it regain market share in Malaysia, and also expand into ASEAN markets. For Lotus, we want to help it penetrate the global market.”

Li Shufu was not able to provide a timeline for Proton’s return to profitability when asked, but said that Geely would want the company to be back in the black as soon as possible. “I cannot give you a definitive timeline now, but rest assured we have a good, solid plan that we will put in place soon, and we will announce it in more detail in due course.

“We believe it will not take a long time because we have strong confidence in the growth of the Malaysian automotive market, and also in Proton,” he said.

DRB-Hicom managing director Datuk Seri Syed Faisal Albar also weighed in on the capital expenditure that will be channeled into Proton, which he said would be dependent on the company’s business plan and its long-term product planning strategy. “One of the first things that we [Geely and DRB-Hicom] need to do together is to put our minds together to develop a business plan. From there we will know more.

“Whatever spending [we will make] will depend on what Proton will be, in terms of its long-term product planning [such as which market segments the company will enter]. Only when a deep discussion on that has taken place can we come up with an amount,” he said.

Geely executive vice president and CFO Daniel Li Donghui laid bare the amount of cash the company has injected into its subsidiaries. “After Geely bought Volvo, we provided more than €3 billion (RM14.4 billion); we also provided [the London Taxi Company] with more than £300 million (RM1.6 billion) to develop pure electric London Taxis and build a brand new, modern plant.”

In the near term, Proton will initially focus on Malaysian and South East Asian markets – it has been reported earlier that Geely will not enter these markets, so Proton will have the space to establish a foothold there. Other export markets will only be considered once the company has managed to do that.

“First, Proton needs to stop losing money and turn itself around,” said Li Shufu. “The priority now is to strengthen its presence in Malaysia and ASEAN markets first – that is where its core business is. Once it has become profitable and has a sustainable development plan and products, then of course it can have plans to export to other countries. There is no limit to it.”

Lastly, Li Shufu said that Proton’s more than 30 years of experience in research and development will be beneficial in helping Geely develop right-hand drive cars. “Proton will become one of Geely’s global R&D centres, and will focus on right-hand drive research and development and market adaptation,” he said.