Up to the end of April, Proton registered just 594 cars, 6% down year-on-year, following sales of 1,754 in 2004 (a drop of 5%). In 2003, Collier told AM that Proton would sell 8,000 units in 2004 and 15,000 in 2005. Now the company has set retailers sales targets of 4,000 this year –this already looks likely to be missed.
Collier was not available as AM went to press. He was attending a workshop at his Norwich HQ showcasing Proton’s automotive brands and attended by representatives of the manufacturer’s 18 global distributors.
Simon Park, Proton general sales and marketing manager, says: “Following initial supply difficulties, we are pleased with our March and April performance and look forward to two new models later this year and an increased volume.”
Dealers are bracing themselves for a poor performance during the summer, however. They have lost confidence that the crucial September market will herald a revival and several are understood to have given notice of termination or are planning to desert Proton.
“I’d be better off selling used cars. We’ve heard nothing but promises for more than two years and nothing has materialised,” says one. “The market is hard but a lot of cars are being sold. Proton owners are extremely loyal but we’re not getting the conquest sales we need because we’re up against models like the Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris.”
According to Simon Park, Proton’s problem is increasing awareness of its products. “Our research shows 75% of consumers in our part of the market are aware of the Proton name but we need to make our models more recognised,” he says.
During the summer, a 30ft display rig will be the focal point of a roadshow in 16 town centres and shopping centres. The promotion will highlight Proton models, plus a Lotus Elise and MV Agusta motorcycle, representing halo brands within the Proton group.
Park’s other priority is to add 30 dealers to the 75-strong network this year and 30 next year. He’s been in talks with one large dealer group, but small owner-drivers are the main target.
Last month he sent 1,700 businesses a “dealership in a box” pack outlining the case for signing up with Proton, which includes the carmaker covering costs of set-up and signage, and paying stocking costs. It also supports dealers’ regional advertising.