Having announced its intention to sell Smart electric vehicles in Malaysia and Thailand in January, Proton has finally signed the distributor agreement that will allow it to do so. The knock-on effect is that the first model, likely the cutesy Smart #1 SUV, will only arrive early in the fourth quarter of next year.
That gives Proton just a few months to sell the car before the government plans to pull the plug on its import, excise and road tax exemptions for imported EVs. The company is hoping for an extension of these incentives, particularly as it says it’s still too early to gauge whether the demand is sufficient to support local assembly, reported paultan.org.
Nevertheless, the company has big plans for the Sino-Saxon brand, announcing its intention to set up a charging infrastructure with a local partner as well as selling and installing wallbox chargers for home use. Proton also says it plans to model its Smart retail operations on those in other markets, including setting up a “connected digital solution” for journey planning, charging availability and even purchasing the car itself.
“Today marks a big step for Proton’s entry into the new energy vehicle market. The first phase of business with smart is focused on retailing but it provides us with valuable knowledge and experience on not only how to service and charge EVs but also how to transform the way we interact with our customers.
“The move into this market segment will also help drive Proton’s move towards being more environmentally friendly in all facets of our operations as we work to help Malaysia achieve its carbon neutrality target by 2050,” said Proton CEO Li Chunrong.
Despite the impending discontinuation of tax incentives, the national carmaker expects to sell between 800 to 1,000 Smart cars annually. That’s according to deputy CEO Roslan Abdullah, who added that the company plans to eventually reach 10,000 total sales by 2027.
The car itself: Smart #1
You may be wondering what Proton is doing selling cars from Mercedes-Benz’s small car specialist. The two companies have more in common than you think – Proton is part-owned by Geely, and in 2019, the latter purchased a 50% stake in the loss-making Smart brand.
The Smart #1 is the first product of the joint venture. Developed by Geely in Ningbo, China, it rides on the company’s new Sustainable Electric Architecture (SEA) but features styling by Mercedes in Germany.
Beneath its jelly bean-like exterior lies a rear electric motor producing 268hp and 343Nm of torque, along with a 66kWh battery that provides a range of up to 439 km. A 22kW wallbox charger fills the battery from 10 to 80% in less than three hours, while a 150kW DC fast charger does the same in under 30 minutes.
Unlike the tiny Smart Fortwos of yore, the #1 (pronounced, rather hilariously, the ”hashtag one”) has seating for five. The cabin is dominated by a large 12.8-inch centre touchscreen, running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8155 automotive processor and incorporating a low-poly globe-style interface with a fox avatar.
There’s also a nine-inch instrument display, a 13-speaker Beats sound system, heated and ventilated powered seats, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, a panoramic glass roof, Qi wireless charging and a hands-free powered tailgate. There’s even a vehicle-to-load (V2L) function that allows the car to charge another electric vehicle at up to 3.3kW.
Even with the tax incentives, don’t expect the #1 to be particularly cheap. “What Smart offers is a premium product, so when you have a premium product as compared with other EV brands, I think we know that the range of products will be difficult to position below RM150,000,” said Roslan, adding that the company is is targeting buyers between 25 to 35 years of age who purchase cars priced over RM200,000.