When Geely purchased a 49.9 percent stake in Proton from DRB-Hicom in 2017, the Chinese carmaker was upbeat about its goal to become the third largest automotive brand in the Southeast Asian ASEAN trade bloc by 2027.
5 years later, we are now at the midpoint of Geely’s 10-year goal for Proton. To the credit of the new team at Proton, the Malayan Tiger marque is now on a much stronger footing than it ever has since 2013. Proton ended 2022 with 141,432 cars delivered, up 23.3 percent from 2021, but that’s also because production was severely disrupted then due to Covid-19.
2022 also marked the fourth consecutive year of growth for Proton, which not a small feat considering the disruptions caused by Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021, plus the on-going shortage in semiconductor parts.
But your boss rarely cares how hard you had to work to achieve your target right? The only thing that matter is whether did you achieve it or not, and good is often not good enough for impatient money-men who want to see a return on their investments fast.
Geely’s order to Proton is to quadruple its sales (including exports) to 400,000 cars by 2027. For context, Honda sold 338,980 cars last year in our region’s Top 5 largest markets of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam. And did you just laugh?
Well, there is a saying among Chinese businessmen – “If you succeed, they will call you a visionary, if you fail, they will call you an idiot. Such is the world.” We will know whether Geely is in the former or the latter in 5 years’ time.
But nevermind winning in ASEAN, Proton is nowhere near to catching Perodua, which closed year 2022 with 282,019 units delivered - a staggering 140,587 units more, or nearly twice as much as Proton.
With such results at the game’s half-time point, you would expect Geely to take at least pause and ask some hard questions, and perhaps admit that ASEAN is a very complicated market that the Chinese didn’t understand enough, and the Japanese is not to be taken lightly.
“Maybe we still don’t know what we don’t know,” is a phrase that was definitely not uttered in the Geely’s headquarters in Hangzhou, because Geely had just reminded the world that the No.3 in ASEAN goal still remains.
In a recent press statement to recap Zhejiang Geely Holding’s achievements in 2022, the company said this of Proton: “The Malaysian national brand maintained its number-two position in its home market as it continues to execute its ambitious strategy to become a top three automaker in the ASEAN region.”
There was no mention of the 2027 timeline, but that doesn’t mean that it’s no longer there.
The current ranking of the biggest selling automotive brands in ASEAN, calculated based year 2022’s sales volume in the top-5 biggest markets in the region - Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam - are as follows:
- Toyota: 985,463 units
- Honda: 338,980 units
- Isuzu: 287,095 units
- Perodua: 282,019 units
- Mitsubishi: 266,525 units
- Daihatsu: 202,665 units
- Proton: 141,432 units (total production, including exports outside of ASEAN)
- Suzuki: 130,433 units
- Hyundai: ~120,583 units
- Ford: ~100,000 units (estimate)
If Perodua is to be grouped with Daihatsu, it would’ve easily eclipsed Honda to become a strong No.2 automotive company in ASEAN, but you don’t hear Perodua or Daihatsu talking about it because that’s not their goal.
To the Japanese, the goal is to satisfy their customers with good products, products that meet the needs of the customer. Not necessarily the needs of enthusiasts, but the needs of their customers. Perodua’s strong sales numbers is just a byproduct of doing this very simple goal right, and keep improving on it by applying kaizen principles, every day, every year.
Also read: EQ is more important than IQ - Perodua explains why it doesn't measure success by numerical KPIs
Isuzu’s third-place position is also commendable, because this spot was previously held by Mitsubishi Motors.
How Isuzu managed to overtake Mitsubishi is all down to the strength of the new generation Isuzu D-Max, which is now the No.1 selling pick-up truck in Thailand, overtaking the supposedly undefeatable Toyota Hilux. It’s quite a feat.
Also read: More than 80% of pick-up sales in Thailand in 2022 consist of Isuzu D-Max and Toyota Hilux
More importantly, Isuzu secured the third spot with just two core models – the Isuzu D-Max and the Isuzu MU-X 7-seater SUV. The latter is not available here due to our tax structure that penalizes imported vehicles. The D-Max is able to escape this because it’s classified as a commercial vehicle, which exempts it from paying excise tax.