National automaker Proton could see its long-awaited return to profitability this year, The Edge Markets reported. If so, the turn of profit would mark the company’s first since the purchase of a 49.9% stake by Geely in June 2017, driven by new model launches and cost-cutting measures in joint management with Geely, Proton CEO Li Chunrong said.

“I think this year, we could make a profit. Financial performance has improved a lot. You will see the numbers at the end of this year. We are confident that next year, we will be profitable,” Li said. Proton reported a net loss of RM481 million (US$115 million) in the financial year ending March 2018 according to DRB-Hicom, the conglomerate which holds the other 50.1% stake in Proton.

In terms of product launches, 2019 saw the debut of the Persona, Iriz, Exora and Saga minor updates, which followed the launch of the Geely Boyue-based Proton X70 at the end of last year. In July, Proton announced that it has sold a total of 43,679 units for the first six months of 2019, which represented a 61% increase over the same period in 2018.

Proton and parent company Geely have invested more than RM1.2 billion for the expansion and upgrading of the automaker’s manufacturing facilities, and the facility which produces the X70 crossover will be able to produce other Geely models, Geely said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Proton is likely to set a target of a 30% increase in vehicle sales for 2020, said Li, as the Proton board is due to meet on Saturday to set performance goals, according to the report. The nation’s first automaker also aims to claim the top position in Malaysia by 2027 and be ranked among the top three makes in Southeast Asia, in which Proton is currently ranked ninth, as it looks to export to Thailand and Indonesia.

Proton is broadening its horizons, and not just geographically; it said last week that fellow national carmaker Perodua is no longer its immediate competitor, and instead it has Japanese makes Toyota and Honda in its sights as it pursues a larger share of the market. Li is looking at Proton to focus on the finer points of vehicle development in order to transition from making ‘basic cars’ to ‘high-end cars’, something that is part of a 10-year plan envisioned for the brand.