The launch of the Proton X70 in mid-December was certainly the talk of the town for Malaysians, and brings an end to a lengthy pre-launch campaign that included multiple previews and teasers spread across several months.

In any case, the national carmaker’s first-ever SUV model is finally here and is being offered with four variants – Standard 2WD, Executive 2WD, Executive AWD and Premium 2WD – with prices starting from RM99,800 on-the-road without insurance.

As we’ve noticed time and again, a vehicle’s pricing is always a major talking point among the general public, and the X70 is not excluded from this. Based on the almost 300 comments posted in our launch story, some sang praises for what Proton was offering with the X70, while others had their doubts.

So, with the opinions of the public clearly put forward, it’s time to find out what Proton’s take on the X70 after the model’s introduction. For that, we spoke to Datuk Abdul Rashid Musa, chief executive officer at Proton Edar, to gather his thoughts on the issue of pricing and the challenges involved in selling the X70.

Datuk Abdul Rashid Musa, chief executive officer at Proton Edar

Congratulations on the official launching of the Proton X70. Now that it has been officially revealed can you tell us why Proton chose such a long pre-launch campaign for its first SUV?

Datuk Abdul Rashid Musa (DARM): Thank you for complementing our launch and thank you for your attendance. It was a very long journey from when we started testing the X70 to get to where we are now and along the way we embarked on several campaigns including giving sneak previews while we were still testing left-hand-drive (LHD) models.

Proton could have released limited details and waited for the launch before we revealed everything but with the X70, we felt we needed time to win the hearts and minds of customers who may not be comfortable with the idea of buying a premium Proton SUV. Therefore we staggered the release of information and held previews to keep customer interest high. We then opened our order book early and I think the strategy has been proven to be effective based on the number of bookings we received prior to the launch.

The deliberate build up also allowed Proton to show Malaysians we are not treating this as just another new model launch. There were numerous activities in the run-up period, from the opening of new 3S/4S outlets, to the matching of local and overseas vendors to running an extensive training programme to ensure sales and service staff were familiar with the vehicle, we did as much as possible so that customers would get a holistic premium brand experience with the product as well as at our outlets.

The price has attracted a lot of attention and many say the Premium 2WD variant offers excellent value for money. However, some are also saying the Standard 2WD variant is too expensive. What is your comment about this?

DARM: The price of the Proton X70 was set by taking into consideration many different factors. I have read the comments and opinions posted on social media and on the various websites so please allow me some leeway for a thorough explanation.

Firstly, while Proton does not deny the X70 is based on the SUV (Boyue) from our joint venture partner Geely, a lot of development work had to be undertaken to create our first SUV. There are hundreds of different parts our customers do not see as taking a vehicle designed as a LHD model only and adapting it to a right-hand-drive (RHD) version is a huge undertaking.

This isn’t the same as when Proton launched its first car as our partner at the time primarily produced RHD cars. So, with the X70, not only did we have to learn about an all-new vehicle segment but Geely also needed to learn about developing a vehicle for RHD markets.

Secondly, the X70 is currently exclusively produced for the Malaysian market. Going forward, we will be exporting it but for now, Malaysia is the only country where it is sold. So, while we are very bullish about how many we can sell, our annual volume is roughly equivalent to slightly over one month of sales for the equivalent model in China. Therefore, production costs are naturally higher as there is less economies of scale and don’t forget, it also doesn’t share a single component with any other Proton model.

There are other costs involved too aside from the bill of material (BOM) costs. Shipping and handling for instance needs to be added and you also have to consider the investment Proton and its dealers have to make in specialised tools, training and upgrading of the network of outlets. As a whole therefore, developing, manufacturing and launching the Proton X70 has been a costlier undertaking than many realise.

So, now that we have established a cost base we can consider the price of the Standard variant. Critics say we priced it too high but looking at the extensive specification list, we feel the pricing is justified. Despite its positioning, it gets six SRS airbags, Auto Brake Hold, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control System (TCS), Hill Hold Assist (HHA), Hill Descent Control (HDC) and Emergency Stop Signal (ESS).

It also gets a 1.8 TGDI engine, LCD combination meter, auto dual-zone air conditioning, air purifier, six USB ports and the advanced Global Key User Interface (GKUI) system that features an embedded eSIM card, preloaded apps and voice recognition. This is paired to an 8-inch Android-based touchscreen interface with a 1280×720 full colour display with 32 GB of internal memory space and allows for remote control of certain features on the X70 via the Proton Link app. It is also Wi-Fi enabled to allow for mobile hotspot capability.

Add the extensive equipment list to the costs involved for Proton to bring the X70 to Malaysia and does the price still look too expensive? I’ll accept, many have a different view about value because we are Proton, but if this SUV wore a Japanese or European brand badge on the nose, everybody would rave about the value for money it offered.

Proton will have to accept this limitation for now but don’t forget, this is the starting point to a new model and brand experience offensive that will bring Proton upmarket while maintaining our role as a national car maker that builds cars for Malaysians.

That explanation makes a lot of sense but having explained about the position of the brand, can Proton then expect to sell many units of the X70 for RM123,800?

DARM: That’s a good question and quite honestly there was some doubt internally about how the market would receive a premium priced Proton. However, I can confirm the vast majority of our pre-launch bookings has been for the Premium variant, which shows buyers are attracted to the higher equipment levels of this model and are of the opinion it is worth the extra cost.

If you take a closer look at the specifications, paying an extra RM24,000 over the Standard 2WD variant nets a lot of extra items. Externally, for instance, the wheels grow in size to 19-inch alloys wrapped in Continental tyres while the headlamps are now LED projectors with daytime running lamps (DRL).

Inside, the seats are trimmed in premium Nappa leather with power adjustment for the front seats including a ‘boss’ switch function while the sound system is upgraded to a nine-speaker system with a power amplifier and subwoofer. Of course, the most noticeable feature is the full-length panoramic sun roof that can be operated via voice command.

The majority of the extra equipment though comes in the form of our Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS). The 360-degree camera is also available on the Executive 2WD variant and if you go one level up, the Executive AWD variant adds on a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) too. The Premium 2WD variant however, also gets Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), Door Opening Warning System (DOW) and Intelligent High Beam Control (IHBC).

Admittedly, there are now quite a number of vehicles in the market offering a similar level of safety equipment but none is able to do so at the price of the X70 Premium 2WD and none can combine it with an infotainment head unit as advanced as our GKUI. Our customers are aware of this and I think that’s why bookings for the Premium 2WD variant are so high.

The Proton X70 was launched with four Xtra packages. Explain to us why Proton added these packages and how they benefit X70 buyers.

DARM: The four Xtra packages are what Proton terms as ownership packages, where being a buyer of Proton cars and the X70 in particular comes with extra benefits. The Xtra Service package for instance, gives free labour for five selected services up to 100,000 km, so during those services, owners need only pay the cost of parts and consumables. This lowers the maintenance cost, which is then boosted by the Xtra Warranty package, offering coverage for five years with unlimited mileage.

The Xtra Low Financing Rate package also helps lower ownership costs by offering rates starting from as low as 2.34% per annum for qualified buyers. Therefore, a Proton X70 Standard 2WD variant buyer pays less than RM1250 per month on a seven-year financing package assuming they pay a 10% deposit.

As for the Xtra Data package, one of the unique selling propositions (USP) of the Proton X70 is termed as ‘Redefined Connectivity’ so it makes sense to offer free internet data, capped at 1 GB per month for five years to our buyers.

I must stress that Proton is the first automotive brand to do this in Malaysia, which is a reflection of how our GKUI is truly revolutionary and offers features that even vehicles costing two or three times more do not yet have. The X70 is therefore a truly connected vehicle.

Add it all up and we believe we have an excellent combination of price and ownership packages to attract premium SUV buyers. This is reflected in the traffic we are currently seeing at Proton outlets nationwide, which has surprised us not just in the number of people coming to view the vehicle but also in the quality of potential customers. Hopefully the X70 will be the catalyst to reintroduce the brand back in to the lives of many Malaysians.

Thank you for your time and detailed answers. Most of our readers don’t know this but you were recently awarded the title of Datuk. Congratulations. Do you have any comment on that?

DARM: Thank you for your kind wishes. For me, receiving this honour is recognition for the work I have done together with the team at Proton. The success earned was due to teamwork so despite the title being specific to me, it is a reflection of how working together can and will bring Proton to ever greater heights. Thank you.

GALLERY: Proton X70 Premium 2WD