Proton Vs Indonesia: Between Dreams and Reality

Proton as one of SE Asia own automotive marque is regarded as one of the most successful brand in the industry. As a SE Asia bigger company, it stretches its sales network to Europe, Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, China, many other countries and recently Indonesia. Even though many late comers did not enjoy high growth or sales immediately, Proton sales in Indonesia is awfully lacking.

Indonesians are well known for their impulsive buying habit and have tendency to become super early adopter. Many China made bikes, cars, products which had bad quality being bought as soon as they come up, and the reason why because they are cheap. Sure in the end the quality problem rears its ugly head and people started ditching them. However, Proton did not enjoy that kind of “first step” as none even bought their products (well actually there are some). Until today since last year Proton opens up its business in Indonesia, I only saw 4 Protons on the road with one of them being towed… Probably had a problem, the driver seemed very unhappy. So why oh why…?

The reason Proton is very unsuccessful in Indonesia as far as I know is attributed to several obvious things. One being political, two being product portfolio, and three being the product styling.

Politically, Malaysia and Indonesia has a bit of tension regarding Indonesian labor being treated bad there. As deaths has been reported due to neglect and abuse in Malaysia. To make things worse, there are claims about Malaysia claiming Indonesia’s cultural products such as songs, indigenous dance and what not. I would not go into details because I think politics are stupids and most politician goes where a marketer and lawyers went when they are dead anyway.

On product portfolio front, Proton only made available cars which are sedans and supermini, which are cars most Indonesians dislike. Indonesian market dictates that a car must be:

  1. Cheap.
  2. Can sit minimum of 6 comfortably.
  3. Frugal
  4. Handsome… This one is subjective

So Proton current product portfolio only consists of two sedans, one hatch coupe, and one supermini hatch. They certainly could not seat 6, the price range is weird, their looks are… Somewhat unique, and frugality is unproven. Proton’s product price range is unique in a connotative way. Proton Savvy as a supermini is aggressively priced at Rp. 107 million, that is quite right, considering it is automatic model, the Gen-2 sedan hatch is also attractively priced at Rp. 146 million, so does the Waja sedan at Rp 168 million (all A/T models). However, the Satria Neo, which is a 2 door hatch coupe is priced at Rp. 190 million, quite expensive for a late comer considering at that price you can get the more popular Honda City VTEC A/T. So price is okay, one star product with three cash cow is not bad at all.

Then there is the look… Frankly speaking personally, aside from Proton Savvy, all of Proton’s offering is… Different… In a negative way. The Savvy is different in a unique way, it looks very European. The unique side profile, the center exhaust, and every line puts me head over heel. If I have excess money, then I will buy this car, but since I do not have any, then it will have to suffice I am writing good impression of the car 🙂 Do you know that the Savvy has engine and transmission lifted directly from Renault Clio? Yup, the D4F engine and Quickshift 4 (or is it 5?) can be found powering the Savvy. Some say the Savvy itself is based on the Clio, but I could not found definitive info on this. Suffice to say, the engine and transmission itself is worthy to be called awesome, as this means that Savvy is a true European car. There is a popular culture here in Indonesia that if you cannot afford Mini Cooper, than Suzuki Swift is the next best thing… WHOA! The Swift might have the look, but the Savvy is the truer representation of European technology (because it actually is). Interior wise it is also quite good, considering it is a Rp 107 million car.

Other Proton cars… Err… The Waja looks like small VW Passat, a bad impersonation that is. The Gen-2 rear end is good, I like it, but the overall roundness does not suit the front end of the car, which happens by the way has smallish headlights. Proton Satria Neo profile also look like it belongs to the 90s. Overall, aside from the Savvy, all Proton cars looks outdated to me.

So why Proton is unsuccessful in Indonesia? Aside from political problems, Proton did not do the number one mantra in the business world, they did not do enough marketing effort. Marketing effort to change the perception of Proton when it was just taxi fleet so many years ago. The problem is, Proton Indonesia needs to get rid of its taxi fleet image that has been perceived for so many years. Mind you, when Proton (Saga) was used as taxis, it is not a good taxi, the ride was rough, and the engine noise was awful. Sure time changes everything, but perception is one thing that time could not easily change.

So Proton needs to change or rather reinvent their marketing strategy. For sure the existing campaign is less than effective, and they can follow what Suzuki, Toyota and Honda had done in the past to introduce youth oriented marketing and approach. At least the Savvy is quite good, Proton could abuse the European connection because people are sucker for International exposure.

One more thing I like about the Savvy is that it looks very different than any other car out there. Perfect to be targeted to those who wanted to be different.