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Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed

CY Foong · Dec 1, 2023 04:35 PM

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 01

Despite its SUV models helping to elevate Proton’s image, sedans have often been historically associated with the Malaysian Thundercat.

The best-selling model of its current lineup is the Proton Saga while Proton acknowledges that the Proton S70's introduction is to fulfil the demand for sedans despite the popularity of SUVs.

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 02

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Even at the S70’s launch on Tuesday, Minister of International Trade and Industry, Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Aziz remarked that Proton’s sedan models have always been at the heart of Malaysians.

“We (Malaysians) have fond memories of driving a Proton sedan,” he said. “It is timely for Proton to return to this market segment (with the S70) after the success of the SUVs - the X50, X70, and the recently launched X90.”

Also read: Proton Deputy CEO on the Proton S70's launch: We have enough SUVs in the market

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 01

The Geely Emgrand-based Proton S70 is Proton’s first all-new sedan model since the Iriz-based Persona was launched in 2016. The S70 also marked the return of P1 to the C-segment sedan market following the discontinuation of the Proton Preve in 2020.

Launched in 2012, the Proton Preve was meant to lead the Malaysian carmaker into an ambitious overseas expansion plan. From its design to the technologies introduced to the foreign-sounding name, the Preve was supposed to be Proton’s great white hope beyond Malaysia but it ended up being mostly a failure.

So what went wrong with the Preve? We’ll look at three core reasons why the Preve did not meet its expectations and how the S70 can help reverse some of those mistakes.

Reason #1: The “world car" baggage

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 02

Ambition is embedded in Proton but to paraphrase (kindly) a quote often said by Messrs. Clarkson, Hammond, and May during their multiple challenges, they were often way off their mark.

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 03

Wanting to prove to the world that Proton can be more than just rebadging existing Mitsubishi (and a Citroen) models, it launched the Proton Waja in 2000. The sedan was the first-ever Malaysian-designed car though it still used borrowed powertrains and chassis from the Three Diamonds.

Also read: 20 years later, is the Proton Waja a dream or a nightmare?

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 04

The first fully developed Malaysian car though would be introduced 4 years later, the Proton Gen-2. It had a bespoke platform and engine clothed in an indigenously designed body. While the Waja was generally received by Malaysians, the Gen-2 struggled and as a result, Proton began sliding down in sales by the mid-2000s.

Also read: What are the 5 Best (and 5 worst) pre-Geely era Protons?

With these two models, Proton had proven to the world that they can develop their own cars – still an impressive achievement given the Malaysian automotive industry is very young – but the results felt like a hollow victory. Proton can win over buyers in Malaysia who frankly do not have much of a choice but overseas, it was perceived poorly or only had a brief period of popularity.

Also read: UK fans tell us why old Proton Sagas and Iswaras are getting a bit of a renaissance in Britain

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 05

The 2010 Proton Tuah Concept previewed the production Preve

During the development of the Preve, Proton sought help overseas by poaching talent from established brands in the West. For design, P1 hired famed Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro from Italdesign and appointed ex-BMW Vice President of Quality Management R&D, Dr Wolfgang Epple as Proton’s Director of Quality.

Also read: Is the Proton EMAS a wasted golden opportunity?

The hiring of established names to help pen the Preve’s design and holding an executive role at Proton meant that things were getting serious for the brand. Proton wasn’t just eyeing the Malaysian market with the Preve but ASEAN and beyond.

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 06

2010 Proton Tuah Concept
Sidebar: At the 2010 Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show (KLIMS), there was a photo booth where you could print out your own design of the Tuah concept which was initially planned to be called the Proton Espire

Prior to the Preve’s launch in 2012, it was announced that the car would be introduced in Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia mere months after its Malaysian debut. There were plans to launch it in the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and South America too.

The Preve introduced many firsts for Proton. It was the first model to incorporate Hot Press Forming (HPF) tensile parts to strengthen its body rigidity. It was designed to hold up to 6 airbags and was tested extensively overseas, particularly in Australia.

In terms of powertrains, the Preve would be the first Proton sedan with a turbocharged engine and is the first Proton model to be equipped with Getrag (MT) and Punch (CVT) transmissions. The introduction of these foreign brands added some credibility to Proton with its ambitious global plans.

Yet, when the Preve was launched overseas, the reviews were mixed. Over in Thailand and Indonesia, reviewers were absolutely glowing with most of the praise towards its handling and pricing.

Australian reviewers were a lot harsher. CarAdvice gave it 2 out of 5 stars citing the build quality is not up to par with its price and the engine’s poor fuel performance. For context, it was priced similarly to the Aussie-spec Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3 at the time.

Also read: Even after 6 versions, here's why Proton's CamPro engines have poor fuel consumption

Even though the Preve received a 5-star rating from Australia’s ANCAP and plenty of standard equipment, most of the Australian reviews criticised the poor quality and ergonomics. Grant Edwards from Sunshine Coast Daily compared the interior design to a Corolla from the 1980s.

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 07

In spite of the praises from Thai and Indo media, the Preve’s sales in those countries were lacklustre. However, sedans were never popular in either country to begin with.

Down Under, during the Proton Preve’s first full year of sales, 270 units of the sedan were sold, tying with the Nissan Altima. The Porsche 911 sold 6 more units that year...

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 08

The Preve was once locally assembled in Bangladesh for a few years

So, Proton’s ambitious global plans faltered with the Preve and the Malaysian carmaker practically gave up in many of those markets and later pulled out. As a world car, the Proton Preve was a massive flop but at home, the sedan was about to face its own issues.

Reason #2: Unfulfilled promises

In April 2012, the Proton Preve made its world debut in Malaysia with an attractive price range of RM 59,540 to RM 72,990. Just like the S70 today, the Preve was a C-segment sedan with a B-segment price and offered better equipment than its C-segment peers, especially on the top-of-the-range turbocharged variant.

These include a built-in GPS, paddle shifters, automatic wipers, automatic headlights, cruise control, and ESC.

11,000 bookings were made within 2 months of its official launch and the Preve became the 7th best-selling car in May 2012 as well as the best-selling C-segment sedan that month.

Reviewers also praised the Preve with many calling it a shiny beacon of hope for Proton. However, that hope wasn’t meant to last very long as the issues with the Preve began appearing and its appeal grew stale.

Also read: Used Car Guide: RM 20k for a used Proton Preve, should you consider it?

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 09

The Preve was plagued with build quality issues even from some of the reviews at the time. The interior felt cheap while the fit and finishing of panels and trims are very poor. Then there’s the CVT.

While the Getrag 5-speed manual transmission saw plenty of praise that would eventually also spill over to the Iriz, Proton’s next global hope, the meme of the Punch CVT that matches its name began with the Preve.

Also read: Pros and Cons: Proton Persona – Punchy handling, punched out CVT

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 10

The CVT’s jerky behaviour is well-documented and a bane for many Proton owners. Yet the Punch CVT would be offered on Proton’s future models and though the latest one offers a slightly better effort, the units on the Preve basically solidified its doom.

Also read: Review: Proton Iriz Active – more tech, but has the CVT improved enough?

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 11

And doom is unfortunately where the Preve was heading even at home. While sales for the model grew to its peak in 2013 with 21,266 units sold, it would drop to 12,095 units a year later and continue slipping.

Part of the reason why the Preve faltered as the years went by is because of Proton’s image at the time. P1 was no longer the number 1 carmaker in Malaysia in the late 2000s and would stay that way until today.

Persisting issues with quality and poor aftersales saw Proton slip to its lowest point in 2015 when it was ranked 4th behind Perodua, Toyota, and Honda in terms of sales.

Reason #3: Cannibalised by its own siblings

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 12

At the same time, the Preve itself was being cannibalised by other Proton models, particularly the similarly sized first-gen Persona. When the Preve was launched, it was positioned between the cheaper Persona and Lancer-rebadged Inspira, both of which shared similar dimensions.

Also read: Used Proton Inspira for RM 20k! This or the Mitsubishi Lancer?

The Inspira was meant to be a stop-gap measure in Proton’s C-segment lineup while the Preve was in development. However, market segmentation wasn’t so clear in Proton’s case. When the Waja was launched in 2000, it was a more premium sibling to the Wira while the original Saga sold alongside as Proton’s entry model.

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 13

Even before the Preve’s unveiling, some in the media assumed that it would be replacing the Persona but instead, the Gen-2-based saloon soldiered on alongside the Preve. The Persona would turn out cannibalising the Preve’s sales potential as the years went on.

Subsequently, the Inspira would be discontinued while the second-generation Persona was revised as a B-segment sedan that was based on the Iriz. This didn’t help the Preve’s chance of returning to the Top 10 sales chart and every update introduced received little coverage.

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 14

The final updated Preve received the chrome Proton logo and not much else

During the final years of the Preve’s life, most of it was sold as fleet vehicles to companies or government institutions. In the end, the Preve was quietly discontinued in 2020 with a mere 11 units sold in its final year though it was likely that the Preve's production ended earlier.

Also read: 10 years ago, the Proton Suprima S was launched - P1's biggest missed opportunity?

How can the S70 be a better successor?

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 15

Now that we reach the end of the article, let me say up front that I cannot guarantee that the S70 will be a sales success. The automotive scene has changed dramatically in the decade since the Preve was first launched and it is still very early to tell at this point.

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 16

The C-segment sedan market is shrinking and there are only a trio of models currently being offered in Malaysia officially aside from the S70. Of the 3 rivals – Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla Altis, Mazda 3 – it’s the Civic that is winning in sales though we might see the S70 taking a chunk of it in the next few months.

Also read: Proton S70: Is it a B- or C-segment sedan? This is Proton's answer on whether you should compare it with Toyota Vios or a Honda Civic

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 17

Proton announced that around 1,200 bookings have been made for the S70 nationwide in the lead-up to its launch. It has an appealing design inside and out as well as a very competitive price range that might make you think twice about getting a B-segment sedan for around the same price.

Also read: 1.2k bookings made for the Proton S70 but which is the most popular variant?

In regards to the question about the S70’s perceived success, there is no clear-cut answer to justify that it will be a sales winner. The least I will give in conclusion is that Proton is in a better position right now compared to when the Preve was launched 11 years ago.

There are no visionary titles given to the S70 like calling it a “world car” or some ambitious vision tagged on it. Malaysia is a small market compared to even our neighbours and Proton is wise to stick to the rivers and not chase huge waterfall-shaped ambitions.

Also read: High import taxes in Indonesia and Thailand are hindering Proton S70 export plans in those markets

Proton’s line-up currently is also leaner and has a clearer product hierarchy. Sedans might be a huge deal for the brand historically but with each 3 serving different segments, it is less confusing than when 3 similar models serve the same purpose.

Why the Proton S70 could succeed where the Preve failed 18

Also, if you’re wondering if Proton has ever made a "world car", they already did. The Proton Wira was sold in every continent on Earth except North America and Antarctica nearly 30 years ago.

Also read: Top Rank: Ten heroically rare Proton Wira models

CY Foong

Writer

Traded advertising for a career that fits his passion for cars. Enjoys spotting cars during his free time and has a soft spot for Japanese Kei cars but drives a thirsty manual sedan.

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