Love it or hate it, Proton has been providing daily-drivers for the humble denizens of Malaysia for the better part of 33 years. The brainchild of ex-premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Proton was conceptualised to boost Malaysia’s industrial capabilities, in addition to stimulating the local economy.
For those of you who don’t know, the Proton name is an acronym derived from Bahasa Malaysia: Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional, which roughly translates to national automotive enterprise/company. Its infancy was spurred by a joint venture with Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi, which birthed the venerable Saga. From then, the national carmaker has progressed through, offering many firsts in the local industry. Over the years, Proton has had many opportunities to acquire, research and develop world-class technology seen their cars today. Here is a look at the top ten technological milestones that Proton has given us through the years.
Perhaps the most obvious in this list, the Saga, which was rolled out in September, 1985, is Proton’s first car, automatically making it Malaysia’s first car model. The Saga, derived from Mitsubishi’s Lancer Fiore saloon, has all the basic functions of a late 20th century vehicle, which simply means that it does not have any of the luxuries we are accustomed to now: no ABS, no airbags, no automatic air-conditioning, no daytime running lights, and definitely no uppity in-car entertainment.
Still, the car oozed swag at the time of launch, and coupled with a dash of government-encouraged patriotism, meant that the Saga single-handedly helped Proton establish the groundwork needed to conquer the local market in its coming years. In fact, the Saga still holds the distinction of being the longest-running production model for Proton: 7 years @ >300,000 vehicles produced.
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Continuing Proton’s rather successful collaboration with Mitsubishi, the Wira, unveiled in 1993, is based on the Lancer Mirage platform. Other than some aesthetic tweaks, the Wira was essentially the same as its parent model. Its dashing looks (at that time) helped establish the Wira as the herald of a new age in Proton, with complementing achievements and sales figures as well.
The Wira is on this list because it is the first of Proton’s car models to be fitted with the SRS airbag (driver’s side) and ABS. It is also the first local model to sport rear disc brakes. Most of these safety features were only available to the international market in the beginning, though, and it helped the Wira sell pretty well (especially in the UK). Proton’s more aggressive overseas strategy also meant that the model was the first to be produced in left- and right-hand drive. The relative popularity of the Wira helped make it Malaysia’s most widely-exported car model to date.
A bonus trivia for the Wira is that it is the only local car which was offered with a diesel engine (using Mitsubishi’s 4D68 2-litre engine), making it the first and only local diesel model.
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The Waja earns the distinction of being the first model that was completely designed and manufactured in-house, signalling the maturing of Proton from badge engineering vehicles to creating its own products (especially honing its nascent design and technological capabilities). Other than the chassis, which was based off the Mitsubishi Charisma, the car is all home-grown. The Waja one-upped Proton’s previous models by offering a more complete safety and comfort package: ABS, traction control, climate control and a driver’s side airbag. Later iterations brought more practical add-ons: passenger-side airbag, cupholders, and driver’s seat lumbar support, among others. While its looks certainly isn’t award-winning, the Waja also sold particularly well in the local market, attaining nearly as much sales as the Saga.
It is interesting to note that R3, Proton’s motorsports division, once made a drift car in the likeness of a Waja. It was first unveiled to the public at a local autocross competition in Batu Kawan stadium. The car, however, was technically not a Waja, since R3 plonked in Waja body panels into a custom chassis, with a turbocharged Nissan engine powering its rear wheels. Still, a car that readily gets its butt out and tyres burning gets our notable mentions any day.
[nextpage title=”Proton Satria GTi and R3″]
The acquisition of Lotus Cars by Proton Holdings Berhad in 1996 brought about a rich influx of both technology and tuning expertise from the guys in Hethel, UK. One of the more stellar results of this acquisition comes in the form of the Satria GTi. Powered by a 1.8-litre Mitsubishi engine, the GTi gets more grunt for a car its size, while Lotus also worked their magic on the suspension setup. The sporty bits and Recaro seats inside also made the car feel like a hot hatch. Combine the hardware and aesthetics, and you get the makings of a cult classic.
Building from the experience and success of the GTi, R3 took the last batch of available Satria chassis and made a souped-up version of the hot hatch. Called the Satria R3 (naturally), the car featured a strengthened chassis, and a more aggressive tuning and aerodynamic package, in addition to coercing more power from the 1.8-litre engine. R3 also managed to reduce the weight of the car by 150kg, making the Satria R3 more light-footed than the GTi.
These two models underline the path Proton has taken towards infusing technology and expertise gained from an external source towards enhancing its own stable.
Racing technology often finds its way into your average daily-driver due to the intense competition among car manufacturers. Good examples of these are rear-view mirrors, disc brakes, dual-clutch transmissions and traction control. The experience gained from racing provide insights into the physical capabilities of a part of the car (or a whole) and how it degrades under stress. It also affords the manufacturer the opportunity to purchase foreign technology and test it on domestic products, in addition to providing a marketing opportunity to boost the brand. This is the reason why manufacturers are keen on entering their vehicles into races, especially high profile ones.
R3, as mentioned earlier, is Proton’s motorsport arm, but in practice, this small group of specialised individuals also conduct research and test new technology before applying them into the newest slew of Proton offerings. One of their biggest moments came when they became the first team to win the gruelling 12-hour Millennium Merdeka Endurance race two years in a row: 2005 and 2006. Technological milestone? Maybe not in the traditional sense, but the experience (and brand distinction) gained should be well worth its cost.
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There is an oft-mentioned adage that the engine is the heart of the car, and this is by no means far from the truth. A good, reliable engine makes, or breaks, a car’s potential for sales. Coupled with the transmission, the engine is normally also the most expensive part of the car to produce. This is one of the reasons why many car manufacturers opt to develop and manufacture their own engines: to guarantee compatibility, lower manufacturing costs, and perhaps most importantly, as a testament of an automaker’s developing prowess.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Proton wanted to design and produce an engine of its own. With the help of Lotus, Proton developed the CamPro, a 1.6-litre-native double overhead camshaft (DOHC) engine. The powerplant prototype was made in the Lotus factory in the UK, and officially debuted as a complement to the new Gen-2 (in 2004). The original CamPro engine came in two guises: a 1.3-litre plant for the baseline and smaller cars, and a 1.6-litre plant for the larger models. Over time, Proton has tweaked and improved the CamPro engine towards better efficiency and practicality, offering better fuel consumption, power figures, and emissions. Today, the Campro engine family remains the current workhorse of Proton’s entire stable, but it will soon be superseded by a new range of engines (see number 10).
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As Proton’s production and dreams grew, it became obvious that it needed a new, larger place to call home. Enter Proton City, a 4,000-acre mixed-development district in Tanjung Malim, about 85 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur. The car assembly factory alone takes up more than 1,200 acres of Proton City, and at a cost of RM1.8 billion.
The Proton City project, started in 1996, has the factory producing more than 150,000 cars a year, churning out models ranging from the diminutive Iriz to the larger Perdana. Inside the futuristic plant, as many as 180 robotic arms can go to work concurrently, taking only 20 minutes to complete a chassis, and producing around 350 cars a day at full capacity.
In the beginning, the city housed about 2,000 car workers who were living in the immediate vicinity. The implementation of supporting infrastructure in the fields of logistics, education, retail, and lifestyle meant that the district has grown immensely since. Additionally, emergent technology will gradually be funnelled into the city, with smart homes, intelligent traffic control, e-commerce and telemedicine nudged into the overall development plan. This is concordant with the strategy by Proton (now owned by DRB-Hicom) to fully develop Proton City by the year 2020.
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The Prevé is a four-door C-segment car by Proton, largely touted to be Proton’s first global car, in addition to being the replacement for the ageing Gen-2 and Persona. It is also Proton’s more publicised effort to convince Malaysia that the national automaker has what it takes to remain competitive and profitable (both locally and abroad).
The Prevé features a few firsts for Proton: first Proton production car with a signature look, first domestic car with a standard in-car wifi (thanks to a YES 4G collaboration), and the first car to attain a 5-star safety rating in the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP). The car was unveiled to the public as a concept at the KL International Motor Show (KLIMS) in 2010. Called the Proton Tuah, world-renowned design house Italdesign Giugiaro was hired by Proton to sculpt what was to be Proton’s signature appearance.
Proton claims that 94 percent of the Prevé is locally-sourced, including its 1.6-litre CamPro IAFM+ (Intake Air Fuel Module Plus, naturally-aspirated) and CFE (Charged Fuel Efficiency, turbocharged) engines. This, coupled with a host of active and passive safety features: traction control (TCS), brake assist (BA), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), electronic stability control (ESC), marks the Prevé as a worthy technological milestone for Proton.
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As the world comes to grips with the scarcity and relatively-limited nature of crude oil, many automakers have since made in-roads into developing a commercially viable alternative-fuel vehicle. One of the most promising possibilities in this category remain to be: the electric car (the other of which is the hydrogen fuel-cell configuration). Perhaps the most well-known electric car company in the world is Tesla, which will be expecting their first profitable period sometime this year. Not one to be left standing, Proton has also taken the initiative towards building a more sustainable and greener future.
The platform chosen to be the face of this admittedly-ambitious project is the Proton Iriz. Internally dubbed the Global Small Car (GSC), the original Iriz is powered by a variable valve timing (VVT) version of the CamPro engine, which meets Euro 4 emission standards. The electric version of the Iriz, however, is very much different from its parent. Weighing in at around 1.4 tonnes, the EV is about 195 kilogrammes heavier than the CamPro version. The Iriz EV sports an AC motor that outputs a claimed 116kW of power (≈155.5hp) and is mated to a single gear ratio of 7.23. Juicing the AC motor is a lithium-ion polymer battery from Korean conglomerate LG. All these hardware translates to a <9-second century sprint, a top speed of 150km/h, and with some minor improvements to EV’s efficiency, a 300km range. Also, fast-charging technology has enabled the Iriz EV to be fully charged from 40% in about 20 minutes, and efforts have also been made to ensure that the standard 3-point socket would work as well.
The last we heard about the Iriz EV was that it is still in prototype stage (undergoing quality and safety tests, in addition to costing considerations). The encouraging stance of our government in electric vehicles would mean that we might be seeing a huge potential for Proton to capitalise on the global EV market. We can only hope for the best.
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One of the best news we have heard this year, Proton has announced that they are currently developing a new range of engines from technologies sourced from Petronas in 2012. The development will be done in collaboration with technical partners Lotus and Ricardo, and these engines will taking over the duties of the CamPro engine. Two primary variations will be developed: one naturally-aspirated (GDi) and one turbocharged (TGDi). Slated to power Proton’s current and upcoming models, the automaker is confident that the engines will be more fuel efficient, more powerful, and of course, more environmentally-friendly than the outgoing engine. Six engine variants are currently in development, ranging from 1.0-litre to 1.5-litre displacements. The 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre engines will come in the form of 3 cylinders, while the 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre engine will have 4 cylinders (and the option of turbocharging for a higher power output). The most powerful variant will be outputting around 180 horsepower and 250Nm of torque. Not too shabby for a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine.
We are going out on a limb to say that GDi is an acronym for Gasoline Direct Injection, which is markedly different from the port fuel injection utilised in the CamPro engine. The most important feature in the new engines, in our humble opinion, is its highly flexible nature, which is crucial to Proton’s future plans. For one, the engines are meant to be compatible with the latest Euro emissions (Euro 6c) in their plans to return to the European market. Secondly, direct injection engines are more efficient due to the allowable compression range and engine pressure inside the engine. Compared to the CamPro’s 2-3 bar tolerance, the new engines’ fuel injectors is capable of spraying finer, more accurately-controlled mists at about 200 bar. Thirdly, the engines will be capable of more technological goodies, stuff like cylinder deactivation (in an effort to curb unnecessary fuel wastage), mild-hybrid implementation (electric motor works in parallel with engine for higher fuel efficiency), Miller cycle, and spray-guidance for the fuel injectors.
Beginning 2016, Proton seems to be picking up momentum in their strive towards achieving its latent potential. Better yet, there are actually more technological milestones not presented in this article. All we can say for now is that they seem to be heading in the right direction. We wish them all the best in their endeavours, and here’s hoping that Proton proves its denouncers wrong.