Make no mistake, Proton is serious about exporting the Proton X70. Not only has Proton begun exporting the X70 to countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, they also want a more sizeable market share in the ASEAN region.
After all, Proton has started work on a Thai version of the GKUI infotainment system, the Proton X70 has also been spotted doing its rounds in Thailand.
While the Proton X70 has received decent response from Pakistan and Bangladesh, it won’t be as easy for the X70 to crack the ASEAN region, owing to several factors.
Indonesia is the largest market here, but entering the archipelago won’t be easy
Take Indonesia, the largest car market in this region, as an example, Proton will have a tough time convincing Indonesian buyers to buy the X70.
Never mind the fact that Proton abandoned their Indonesian customers in the mid-2000s when it exited the country, there are various regulatatory and political hoops for Proton to clear before the X70 can find its way to the archipelago.
Like Malaysia, Indonesia also protects its own domestic market. Although the archipelago does not have a domestic car brand, the government is very protective of their local manufacturing industry and their automotive policy reflects that.
In an effort to protect its local automotive industry, Indonesia limits the import of cars to roughly 100,000 units annually – very similar to our Approved Permit (AP) system.
With the import cap in place, the company cannot expect it to do any better than the Perodua Myvi (sold as the Daihatsu Sirion there). Annually, the Indonesian government caps the import limits of the Sirion to roughly 3,000 units a year.
Putting aside the political side of things, the Proton X70 isn't exactly what buyers in Indonesia want. Between a five- and seven-seater SUV, the latter is the preferred choice for many Indonesian families - the same reason why MPVs reign supremacy in Indonesia.
The best-selling SUV spot in Indonesia oftentimes rotates between the Honda CR-V and Wuling Almaz - the latter is a seven-seater SUV that is a rebadged Baojun 530. The Wuling Almaz went on sale in Indonesia in 2019 and has since climbed the sales chart there.
Without the generous tax incentives the Proton X70 enjoys here, the X70 will be priced closer to a Honda CR-V outside of Malaysia. Between a Honda CR-V and a Proton X70, it's a no-brainer choice for Indonesian buyers.
But that’s just Indonesia. While Proton did voice their intention to enter the market back in 2019, there has been no follow-up announcements by the company ever since.
But the Proton X70 was spotted in Thailand
A couple of weeks ago, spyshots of the Proton X70 (and X50) surfaced in Thailand, sparking rumours that Proton is gearing up to launch its C-segment SUV in the Kingdom.
Like Indonesia, Thailand protects its local automotive industry by imposing high import and excise duties on imported cars, while locally-produced cars get rebates.
As an imported car, the Proton X70 cannot be priced competitively against the made-in-Thailand MG HS, a Chinese product by SAIC.
While the Proton X70 may have gained a strong following in Malaysia, the same cannot be said for Thailand, as Thai consumers are unlikely to see the imported Proton X70 as a more superior product to the cheaper, E85 ethanol-compatible MG HS, which grants it additional discount in excise tax.
The MG HS is currently the cheapest model in its segment.
Regulations aside, the Proton X70 will square up against some tough rivals
And that is even before rivals like the Haval H6 show up.
When Great Wall Motors (GWM) announced their plans to make Thailand as their regional hub, they also mentioned that they will be introducing the Haval H6 in the Kingdom.
Yes, China’s best-selling SUV is Thailand-bound and it will bring the fight to the Proton X70.
Compared to the Proton X70, the Haval H6 is a much newer product, as it was launched in China in mind-2020.
Never mind its handsome looks, the Haval H6 offers a better-designed cabin and an always up-to-date infotainment have won fans over, making it the best-selling SUV in China, miles ahead of the Geely Boyue (Proton X70 to us).
How far ahead you ask? In 2020, GWM sold 376,864 units of the Haval H6 in China, ahead of the Geely Boyue’s 240,811 figure.
In fact, when we got up close and personal with a Haval H6 recently, we noticed how upmarket the cabin feels relative to the Proton X70. Build quality is solid and touch points feel properly upmarket.
Seeing that the Haval H6 will be assembled locally at GWM’s plant in Rayong, it will get pricing advantage over the imported (CBU) Proton X70. As such, the Haval H6 will have to go against the MG HS – the best-selling SUV in Thailand in 2020.
Can the Proton X70 excel in the ASEAN region?
Barring Malaysia, the Proton X70 is unlikely to find many customers within this region. After all, the main reason why the Proton X70 is so popular in Malaysia is purely due to the fact that its prices comfortably undercut all its rivals.
Remove that price advantage and there’s little reason for buyers to choose the Proton X70 altogether.
Buyers in Indonesia prefer the seven-seater Wuling Almaz and the Honda CR-V, while those in Thailand have the MG HS and the upcoming Haval H6 to choose from.
Is the Proton X70 dead in the water when it reaches overseas market? Not really, it's still a fairly competitive product but outside of Malaysia and without the benefit of government protection, the Proton cannot hope to become the market leader that it is in Malaysia.