Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia?

Hans · Feb 1, 2021 03:32 PM

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 01

First things first. There is no such thing as a Proton S50. The name exists not on any Proton car but merely on a list of nameplates trademarked by Proton, along with the Proton V70 and Proton C50.

Still, Malaysians have a very high level of interest in Proton and for whatever reason, S50 is fast becoming a trending topic. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 02

Local Internet users have somehow collectively concluded that the Proton S50 is a natural successor to the Proton Preve/Proton Waja, nevermind the fact that the 50 series name used by the B-segment Proton X50 imply that the Proton S50 should by convention, refer to the next generation B-segment Proton Persona, but who’s the judge of what’s right or wrong on a car that doesn’t yet exist right?

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 01

Plus, Proton themselves, have in early 2019 already confirmed that at least 2 new sedan models and 3 SUV/MPV type vehicles are in the pipeline, two of it has already been launched - the Proton X70 CKD and Proton X50.

The missing puzzle in Proton’s otherwise rather comprehensive range are the Preve-class C-segment and Perdana-class D-segment.

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Among Geely’s range of cars in China, the Geely Binrui is closest to fill the gap left by the Proton Preve, which was discontinued in 2018.

The Binrui’s dimensions are also quite comparable to a Honda Civic.

mm Geely Binrui Honda Civic
Length 4,680 4,648
Width 1,785 1,799
Height 1,460 1,416
Wheelbase 2,670 2,700
Weight

1,360

(17" wheels)

1,327

(18"  wheels)

Launched in 2018, the Binrui was originally only available with a 1.0-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that made 136 PS and 205 Nm, paired to either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

In 2020, a facelift model was launched and the 3-cylinder engine was dropped in favour of a 1.4-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder unit that makes 141 PS and 235 Nm, paired exclusively to a CVT-type automatic.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 03

The new model is quite well received, selling 72,360 units in 2020 alone. However it still falls short of Japanese rivals, very short.

C-segment sales in China, 2020
Nissan Sylphy 538,680
VW Lavida 419,793
Toyota Corolla 350,310
VW Bora 326,341
VW Sagitar (new Jetta) 299,839
Toyota Levin (Corolla's twin) 226,683
Honda Civic 245,126
Geely Binrui 72,360

China’s C-segment sedan market is dominated by the Nissan Sylphy, which sold 538,680 units in 2020. To give you some context, last year the whole of Malaysia’s sold 529,434 new motor vehicles.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 04

Nissan Sylphy

In other words, China sells more Nissan Sylphys than the entire Malaysia’s new car market combined!

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 05

The Nissan Sylphy might not be a very memorable car for Malaysians but the Chinese love it for its spacious cabin and comfort. The Chinese say buying a Sylphy is like buying a sofa on wheels.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 06

VW Sagitar

Volkswagen sells a bewildering array on sedans and foreign observers will find it very confusing but the Chinese market is big enough to support multiple models in the same segment.

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VW Bora

The Sagitar is the latest generation American market Jetta, made by VW’s local joint venture FAW-VW. The Bora was once based on an early generation Jetta but is now a China-only model. Lavida is the Sagitar’s cheaper cousin, made by VW’s other local joint venture SAIC-VW.

Add them all up and VW becomes the No.1 brand for C-segment sedans, with over 1 million units sold in 2020.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 08

Toyota Corolla

Behind the German marque are the Toyota Corolla and Levin twins, with 354,632 and 226,683 units sold respectively. Like VW, Toyota also has two local joint venture companies. FAW-Toyota makes the Corolla, while GAC-Toyota makes the Levin. They are both identical cars with slightly different front-end design.

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Toyota Levin is basically an American market Corolla

The Corolla is popular for the same reason it’s popular everywhere else – it’s the definitive family sedan and is well known for its reliability.

Behind the Corolla and Levin is the Honda Civic, with 245,126 units sold, more than three times as popular as the Geely Binrui.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 10

Honda Civic, pre-facelift model shown

The numbers however include the Civic Hatchback as Honda don’t separate its sales numbers for the sedan and hatchback variant. However hatchbacks are not popular in China so in any case, the Civic sedan still holds a substantial lead over the Binrui.

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The Civic is often referred to as the ‘God car’ in China, similar to how we refer to a Vios/Myvi in Malaysia. It doesn’t matter what supercar you drive because out in the real world, on public roads, a Civic will be sticking on your tail and you can’t shake it off, no matter how much power you have.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 12

The popularity of the Civic is also observed in Malaysia, as well as the wider South East Asia. Over here, the Honda Civic reigns supreme. Even in Thailand, which is also known as Toyota Kingdom, the Corolla Altis has to concede to the all-conquering Honda Civic.

Not even Toyota’s many fleet taxi sales is enough to prop up the Corolla Altis’ sales in Thailand, but that’s also because most Corolla buyers have migrated to the Corolla Cross.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 13

The small number of sedan fans that remained overwhelmingly choose the Honda Civic.

Rounding up the list is the BMA-platform Geely Binrui, which is China’s No.1 No.5 best selling domestic brand C-segment sedan but there is a huge Grand Canyon of a gap between it and Geely’s Japanese/German rivals.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 14

Proton S50’s (or whatever it's is called) prospects in Malaysia

The Proton S50, assuming that it becomes a reality, will of course enjoy bigger rebates in excise duty thanks to Proton’s privilege as a national car so it will certainly be priced lower than the Honda Civic. However unlike the SUV segment, the market dynamics for the S50 is a little different.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 15

The idea of offering a C-segment car at B-segment prices is not new. Remember the Kia Forte and Kia Cerato, and before that the Nissan Latio? None fared any better because unlike SUVs, C-segment sedans don’t offer much advantage over B-segment sedans.

Civic is too strong, Binrui weak, will the Proton S50 have a chance in Malaysia? 16

The latest generation Nissan Almera and Honda City for example, are very competent products that offer C-segment level of space and comfort at much lower prices.

The previous Proton Preve relied a lot on fleet sales to government agencies but today, government agencies are no longer bounded by any obligation to only buy Proton vehicles.

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The police force, Customs, and JPJ are now using Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla Altis, and Honda CR-V. Let's be honest - the term national car is a misnomer and this applies equally to both Proton and Perodua.

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Which leads us to the next most obvious question – with such low market potential, should Proton even bother with the S50?

Why take the attention away from the Proton X70 and Proton X50 brothers? After all, the whole point of the X50 is to ride on the growing SUV trend to pull buyers of Japanese sedans into a Proton showroom.

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So why complicate matters with a sedan that’s not even that competitive in its home market in China?

To our knowledge, Proton has yet to start work on any CMA or BMA platform-based sedan. The immediate priority is to decide between the Geely Jiaji/Proton V70 and the Geely Haoyue/Proton X90.

So while the Proton S50 is interesting, don't expect it to become a reality anytime soon.

Hans

Head of Content

Over 15 years of experience in automotive, from product planning, to market research, to print and digital media. Garages a 6-cylinder manual RWD but buses to work.

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