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In today’s competitive auto industry, domestic as well as global, fresh new products are constantly needed to keep customers coming to showrooms. Every carmaker is launching new products so what’s new today may become just another model by the end of the year. So ideally, there needs to be at least one new model each year but developing a new model is expensive but with the bigger players, there are at least different model lines running on 5-year cycles typically.
For Proton, developing new models on its own has been a capability it has had for some 15 years but it has been challenging since the market has been constantly evolving and becoming more competitive. Even the ‘big boys’ have to re-strategise, move or create new segments or even collaborate to come out with new models.
Four years ago, the company began looking at its next generation of models with a more global approach. While the domestic market has always been Proton’s largest market (and still is), it can no longer rely on just the home market which is opening up and competitors are growing. It has to become more serious about export markets where it’s an entirely different environment. Governments in other countries have no reason to favour Proton and to give it any preferential treatment or keep rivals at a disadvantage. Proton is welcome to sell in their markets like everyone else and has to meet whatever regulations there are, no exceptions.
Watching trends which indicated that consumers are preferring smaller cars, the decision was made to develop a small hatchback which has been referred to as the Proton Compact Car (PCC). It’s widely rumoured that the name of the car will be ‘Iriz’ but Proton officials won’t confirm it and say that the Chairman will reveal it at the launch.
Many have already seen spy shots of the PCC and Proton has also had some creative campaigns, one of which requires four people with smartphones to get together to be able to see the complete picture of the car’s exterior. The momentum is building up for the launch which is said to be scheduled for September 25 at the factory in Tg Malim, where the new model is to be built. Deliveries will commence in October.
Today, as part of the run-up to the launch, Proton revealed the model to the Malaysian motoring media for the first time and provided brief details of its features and technical specifications, which we can share with you right away (unusual since there has usually been an embargo in the past). We were also provided official pictures of the exterior and interior, all of which we are showing in this report.
The first impression of the PCC is that it is bigger than what the pictures suggest and indeed it is. This is not going to be a direct rival to the upcoming Perodua Axia because it is a larger car so it will be targeted at a different segment. So we’ll see a unique situation of two Malaysian brands introducing brand new models in the same month to cater to two different groups of customers.
The overall length is 3905 mm which is identical to the Satria Neo, over 200 mm longer than a Perodua Myvi and 50 mm shorter than a Honda Jazz. It’s pretty wide too at 1720 mm (10 mm wider than the Satria Neo), which is wider than a Nissan Almera. The highest point of the roof is 1550 mm above the ground, taller than the bigger Suprima S which suggests good headroom room (we’ll tell you about that later on). The 2555 mm wheelbase is fairly long in relation to the overall length and the rear end has almost no overhang while the front end has only a short overhang.
This is an entirely new platform and not adapted from any earlier small model. Though it may have saved money to adapt a previous platform, tougher safety regulations in many countries require new engineering in order to pass crash tests. And because Proton’s future will lie in markets outside Malaysia, it has to engineer its cars to meet those standards.
Lessons learnt from developing the Preve and Suprima S – both of which have scored top marks in crash tests in Australia – proved valuable in the development of the PCC. The same Hot Press Forming (HPF) technology used in the Preve and Suprima S is also found in the PCC. HPF produces stronger structural parts without a weight penalty, enhancing rigidity which is good for handling as well as collision protection. In fact, HPF members are so strong that Proton has advised fire and rescue department personnel not to try to cut through certain areas of the car because it will be very difficult.
Because the HPF members are so strong, they resist deformation during a frontal collision and allow the door opening to be maintained enough so that the doors can be opened, allowing the occupants to get out or rescuers to get to them. That’s crucial in the first moments after a crash and additionally, there’s a sensor which unlocks the doors automatically during a severe impact. These are the sort of features which have been seen in more expensive European models but now Proton will provide them in a low-cost model like the PCC.
Safety appears to have been a very high priority for this model and what’s surprising is that Proton is providing some safety features which are usually offered only in the top variants of a model. What we often see is that advertisements will shout about features like 6 airbags, stability control and traction control being present but these are not actually found in the cheapest variants.
With the PCC, Proton is providing Electronic Stability Control (ESC) throughout the range, along with Traction Control and of course, ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) . This is certainly commendable but it may also have been done with the objective of securing maximum stars in NCAP tests. Organisations such as Euro NCAP, ASEAN NCAP and ANCAP (in Australia/New Zealand) require cars to have ESC in order to get maximum scores; even if they get maximum scores for crash tests, the absence of ESC (and also a Seatbelt Reminder system) will mean they are classified as 4-star scores. Proton is therefore confident that the PCC will be able to score the maximum of 5 stars in the ANCAP tests as well as ASEAN NCAP.
Vehicle security has also been upgraded to meet the latest Thatcham standards for both theft of the car as well as break-ins to steal things from inside the car. The higher the security level, the more favourable the insurance premium can be but at this time, the insurance industry in Malaysia does not factor in such things when premiums are calculated. In Europe, though, it’s an industry norm so the PCC will have an additional selling point.
Under the bonnet, there will be a choice of 1.3-litre and 1.6-litre petrol engines with variable valve timing. Though it is possible that these are CAMPRO engines with new cylinder heads and many improvements, Proton is not using the ‘CAMPRO’ name for the PCC’s engines. They have no catchy name and are just referred to as ‘1.3 VVT’ and 1.6 VVT’.
Limited technical details were provided (and none for the 1.3-litre engine) but it is known that the 1.6-litre engine produces 107 bhp with 150 Nm of torque and at 90 km/h, the fuel consumption is claimed to be 18.2 kms/litre. Nothing was said about the transmissions but the chart shown had manual transmission and CVT listed so that’s what the car will have.
The PCC’s steering system will have electric motor-assist (EPS) which is the first time EPS is used on a Proton model. Yes, the Juara mini-MPV had EPS but that was a ‘clone’ of the Mitsubishi Town Box so it does not really qualify as a true Proton model.
The benefits of EPS are lower weight and negligible power losses – which help save fuel – plus the ability for the engineers to tune the steering characteristics optimally.
That’s ‘under the skin’ stuff done and now let’s look at the exterior. From certain angles, especially the front ¾, the car looks bulbous and in some ways it is. But because ‘right’ ratio between the glass area and sheet metal on the sides, it doesn’t look so bulbous. The generous length between the front and rear wheels also helps to visually stretch out the car.
The frontal appearance is bold and an evolution of what began on the Saga FLX. It is the present ‘face’ of Proton and for the PCC, it is regarded as a Progression with the aim of achieving iconic value. The key feature which has united the models since the Saga FLX has been Azlan Othman, Head of Proton’s Design Division, calls the ‘Proton Wings’. These provide the distinctiveness that help each car be readily identified as a Proton. The latest design for the PCC does have a rather busy look though, with a number of different graphic elements.
At the rear, the PCC also has a distinctive look which will help in recognition from a distance, the aim of every car designer. A nice detail is the chamfered treatment around the door opening, adding depth to the rear end in the visual sense. The absence of character lines or ridges makes for a clean rear appearance flanked by smartly-styled light clusters. For a sporty look, there’s a diffuser under the bumper and bodykits are available as well.
According to Encik Azlan, the amount of effort and time spent in designing the cabin was far greater than for any other model and it shows in the quality and detailing. The texture on surfaces makes a big difference in perceived quality and this is something that is not easy to get right. In the Waja, for instance, the smooth finish of the switches made them look cheap when the material used was not of a low quality. For the PCC, there are no substantial smooth glossy surfaces around the cabin (but metallic trim is used to differentiate the top version). Everything is dark but there are no reflections.
A large 6.2-inch touchscreen dominates the centre of the dashboard, flanked by large vents. Further down are three large knobs to adjust the air-conditioning system. Rotary controls are the most suitable for this operation as they are easy to use. The steering wheel has a brand new design (for a Proton) which has a sporty 3-spoke layout with controls on them.
The front seats are generously-sized and structured for good support at the sides (and also the upper back of the body) so the body is held firmly in place. At the rear, the seat height feels just a wee bit too high and kids may find their legs dangling over the edge. A designer said that the slope of the seat was the subject of much study and among the cars they looked at was the Volkswagen Polo.
As mentioned earlier, the car has a roofline that is quite high and this benefits headroom within. It really feels very spacious sitting at the back as the ceiling is higher up than would be expected. Legroom and knee room are also good, thanks to the generous wheelbase.
The equipment list is long and impressive though what will be standard across the three versions – Standard, Executive and Premium in a total of 8 variants – is not so clear. The chart below shows the different variants and below it are the main features that will be available. Of note are the provision of 2 USB charging slots (1.5V and 2.1V), a reverse camera and electrically-operated microswitch to open the rear hatch.
The pricing won’t be revealed till the launch but Tun Mahathir has already said that if you want better quality, you’ll have to pay a ‘better’ price. This could mean that the PCC would not be as cheap as would be expected of a Proton model. However, as Proton strengthens its brand, it cannot price too high just yet although it can justifiably do so given what we have seen in the design and quality of the car. But this sort of challenge faces many carmakers – it costs them just as much to make a good car as those companies with strong brands but they cannot charge the same price.
But the PCC looks like it can be a significant contributor to building the brand while also being a game-changer. We certainly look forward to driving it soon!