Up till the end of the 1990s, Proton was selling its cars in some 50 countries and exported almost 28,000 cars in a single year (1997). However, after that, the number of export markets declined as the carmaker focussed on the domestic market even though it was always recognised that in order to become a true global player, Proton needed to be active in other markets.
Tun Mahathir Mohamad, when he was Chairman of Proton, acknowledged that the company may have been too focussed on the domestic market and didn’t give more attention to the requirements of foreign markets. As a result, when its cars got older, it became difficult to market them because they could not meet increasingly stricter safety and emission standards. That understanding led to Proton developing models with more global acceptance in those aspects, such as the Iriz, Preve and Suprima S.
Now, with Geely helping to rebuild Proton to its former greatness, exports are being given more importance and Proton is becoming active in markets in the Middle East again. At its peak, the company was selling its cars in 11 countries in that region, with Egypt being among the top markets.
Today, Proton began to strengthen its presence in the Egyptian market with the opening of its distributor’s newly-refurbished 4S outlet in Cairo, the country’s capital city. It had earlier despatched a shipment of 246 cars, mainly the Saga and Exora models, which will be distributed to the seven branches and dealers that serve the market.
The importer has set a sales volume of 1,400 units for 2019, a target it is confident of achieving as the revised versions of the Saga and Exora Plus start to become available from the middle of next year.
Speaking during the launch Hisham Ezz Elarab, the owner of Alpha Ezz Elarab, the importing company, said he is excited that the newer Proton models have arrived in Egypt as now he and his team could get to work to re-establish the Proton brand in tandem with the dynamic changes that are taking place in Malaysia.
Aside from being the sole importer, Alpha Group Ezz Elarab is the first company to carry Proton’s latest Corporate Identity (CI) in a showroom outside Malaysia. To open for business from this weekend, the outlet will feature sales, service, parts and state-of-the-art repair facilities in an area covering a massive 15,000 square metres. Other Proton outlets in Egypt also feature the new CI.
“Egypt has the potential to play a big role in helping Proton achieve its future sales targets by increasing our export sales volume. The company and our Egyptian importer have to work closely to ensure their market needs are met when addressing the product and pricing fit to buyers here. If we get that right and deliver cars in a timely manner then we can be successful,” said Steven Xu, Proton’s Director of International Sales during a ceremony to introduce the new models.
2019 will see major changes introduced to the Egyptian automotive market. The gradual reduction in import tax for European cars will lead to lower prices and consumers era expected to shift their purchase preferences to such cars. To counter these challenges, Proton and its partner in Egypt are considering various strategies including starting local assembly operations for lefthand drive versions.
Such a move, however, requires significant steps to be taken including feasibility studies to ensure it makes economic sense for all parties involved. Establishing assembly operations can be advantageous for the carmaker as it will receive incentives from the government in the same way that many foreign carmakers receive various incentives for assembling their vehicles in Malaysia.
Egypt could be used as a regional hub for producing Proton products to be sold in the Middle Eastern North Africa (MENA) region.
“The models we have launched in Egypt will kick off Proton’s rebranding in this market. Sustenance activities will then have to follow in order to keep the sales momentum going and after that, we are hopeful that assembly operations will start. Our aim with local assembly in Egypt wouldn’t be limited to just the local market as we would be looking at meeting demand throughout the MENA countries,” said Mr. Xu.