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Malaysia Automotive News: Volkswagen’s grand vision for Proton

VW has formed a special team headed by Soh Wei Ming, its operations head for Asia Pacific, to look into the possibility of remodelling the Polo as the national car. VW has done this successfully before when it turned around the Czech Republic’s then loss-making Skoda Auto in the early 1990s. Today, Skoda, which mainly sells compact cars, is a profitable entity with plants in Europe and Asia. Skoda is selling some 879,200 units globally.

The Polo currently costs above RM100,000 but the plan put forward by VW to Proton’s ultimate owner, DRB-HICOM Bhd, would see Polo, produced locally with German technology, priced competitively at below the RM70,000 mark. Early this year, DRB-HICOM struck a deal to buy Khazanah Nasional Bhd’s 42.7 per cent stake in Proton for RM1.29 billion, or RM5.50 per share. DRB-HICOM is expected to pay Khazanah Nasional the outstanding amount for Proton this month and take the national carmaker private. Since DRB-HICOM’s emergence in Proton, some of VW’s top group directors have visited the Proton plant, as well as reviewed all the existing Proton models.

Following the review and a meeting in Hong Kong last month between Soh and DRB-HICOM’s chief operating officer, Datuk Lukman Ibrahim, it was decided that the Polo would be the best fit for Proton. VW and DRB-HICOM have a strong working relationship as the Malaysian company is helping assemble the 1.8-litre engine Passat sedan at its plant in Pekan, Pahang. 

 The launch of the locally assembled models is expected to take place this month. VW has been scouting Asia for a base to build a small turbo-based compact car ever since its 2009 partnership with Suzuki Motor Corp, Japan’s number one minicar producer, failed to complete any joint projects. VW owns 19.9 per cent of Suzuki but both parties are currently at loggerheads as VW is keen to maintain its shares in the Japanese carmaker, which has a strong footprint in India, Asia’s second-fastest growing economy. 

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