Proton Holdings Bhd has acquired all the engine technologies and related assets (including 117 technology patents) of Petronas that were developed since 1997 by its technology commercialisation arm (Petronas Ventures Sdn Bhd). The cost of the acquisition is RM63 million.
The acquisition of new engine technology by Proton is timely as the CAMPRO engine, developed in the late 1990s, is probably nearing the end of its product life. Over the past decade, there has been demand for higher fuel efficiency and more stringent emission control standards (especially in Europe) have been introduced. As Proton’s future survival lies in being able to sell more cars in other countries, having powertrains that are able to meet those demands is crucial.
The original CAMPRO engine program, which cost Proton RM450 million, prepared the engine for Euro-3 emission standards at launch 10 years ago, with the capability to go to Euro-4 as well, but by September 2014, new cars sold in the EU will need to meet Euro-6 standards. Other things like recyclability, lower noise levels and lower electro-magnetic emissions have also become more stringent since the CAMPRO engine was introduced.
The CAMPRO program, which was codenamed SENG (Small ENGine) was to have created a family of 4-cylinder petrol engines with displacements of 1.3 litres and 1.6 litres. Also planned but never realised was a 1-litre 3-cylinder engine and V6 engines of 2.0 litres and 2.4 litres.
And at that time, it was also hoped that the engine could have cylinder deactivation (shutting down some cylinders during conditions when maximum power was unnecessary to save fuel) and direct fuel-injection. Unfortunately, these advanced features have never appeared and the only notable feature of the engine when it finally appeared was cam profile-switching and a variable intake manifold.
Only two engine displacements have ever reached commercialisation and when Proton wanted to have a 1.8-litre engine for the Waja, it had to buy the engine from Renault Moteurs – a move which was a disaster as integrating the engine was a nightmare and there were a lot of problems. The Waja 1.8 was so problematic that a senior executive at EON said the salesmen were reluctant to sell the variant. Later on, when Proton needed a smaller engine for the Savvy, it again had to buy the unit from Renault.
At that time, it was known that Petronas had also developed an engine and around the time the prototype SENG was revealed at Lotus Engineering in UK in October 2000, the Petronas engine was already in an advanced stage of development. When asked why Proton did not adopt the engine that the national oil corporation was developing, a senior engineer said that the Petronas engine was intended for high performance with displacements of 1.8 litres to 2.2 litres. Proton needed an engine that was more suited for high-volume manufacture and with displacements in the largest segment of the market, ie between 1.3 litres and 1.6 litres.
The all-aluminium Petronas engine, coded ‘E01’, was already running in 1999, 5 years before the CAMPRO engine appeared in the Gen2. It was later installed in a Waja and a Satria GTI and those who had a chance to drive the cars were impressed by its performance. Some reports mentioned that the power output was over 200 ps with around 200 Nm of torque without a turbocharger.
Internal politics probably played a role in preventing the adoption of the Petronas engine and in spite of the oil corporation briefly owning Proton (after purchasing it from DRB-HICOM), nothing could be done to get it accepted. The CAMPRO program advanced a bit with upgrading of the engine and it has only been in the past year that a turbocharged version has been introduced.
Having spent a lot of money to develop the engine, Petronas tried to find other carmakers to buy the technology and it was rumoured that Hyundai Motor was interested at one point but it then went on to become a partner in the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance with Chrysler and Mitsubishi (which uses the engine in its Lancer). Then in October 2006, Petronas announced that China’s Nanjing Automobile Corporation and the Brilliant Culture Group had reached an agreement to produce the engine, presumably for use in Nanjing’s vehicles.
However, nothing more was heard after that and it could well be that Nanjing felt it was more expedient to use the powertrains and associated technology which it had acquired in 2005 when it bought over some parts of the MG Rover Group.
Since then, Petronas has not done anything more to sell the engine technology and two years ago, it ceased all engine development activities to focus on other businesses.
Now Proton is doing what it should have done 10 years ago but the question is whether much work is needed to bring the engine up to date. Remember that its development began way back in 1996 and engine technology has advanced substantially in 16 years. There’s also the question of how easily the E01 can be integrated with Proton’s current models. Engine mounting points may be different which means that the engine might not be optimally installed in the engine bay. There could well be the same situation as when the Renault engine was dropped into the Waja.
Ideally, if it is the E01 engine is to be used, it should be for the next generation of Proton’s models. The E01 which has been in existence has been non-turbocharged but it has been mentioned by Proton’s Chairman, Datuk Seri Khamil Jamil, today that there will be a turbocharged version with a 2.2-litre displacement. However, there has not been specific mention of the E01 engine being used and it could be that Proton will use the technologies to develop a new engine altogether.
Commenting on the new development after signing the Assets and Technologies Acquisition Agreement with Petronas today, he said, “Proton and Petronas initiated the engine technology exploration in 1996. So it is time now to take over from Petronas since the company decided, in 2010, to exit completely from all engine development activities.”