Published on February 21st, 2024 | by Subhash Nair


Proton Has Been Completely Turned Around In 6 Years Under Dr Li’s Leadership

6 years ago, the national carmaker was in dire straits. Proton was losing money hand over fist. They had an aging product line with lots of failed R&D investments, a pointless tie-up with Suzuki, and couldn’t even make enough money to pay suppliers. Reportedly they were losing up to RM20,000 for every car they sold.

In 2018, everything changed when Proton found a Foreign Strategic Partner in Geely. There were many who expressed their doubts about this tie up. Geely at the time was still a relatively unknown player. They had purchased Volvo Cars but besides that they weren’t well known in the automotive space. Things have certainly turned around since. Geely today is a very different animal. It co-owns smart with Mercedes-Benz. It has revived Lotus Cars and introduced loads of new brands in China.


For Proton, Geely turned out the be the perfect match and they found the right person to turn the company around in record time – Dr. Li Chunrong. His arrival at Proton changed things. On the surface, here was a man who had a poor command of English and didn’t speak a word of Bahasa Malaysia. He wasn’t shy, but he had strange mannerisms. But before long we saw another side of Dr. Li. He turned out to be extremely outgoing and willing to put the time and effort into learning the local customs and language.

Under Dr. Li’s leadership, Proton brought in some much needed new blood, updated their home-grown product lineup and introduced the X70, X50 and then X90 SUVs. While under Tun M’s leadership, the focus had been in providing competition at the lower end of the market, Dr. Li’s vision for Proton was to take back the market share gained by non-premium, non-national brands. What we got was a bolder Proton with a touch of sophistication thanks to underlying Chinese tech and engineering.

Today, Proton is in a really strong position. They’re targeting 250,000 cars sold in the next two years, which is really ambitious given that they sold 150,000 vehicles last year. This figure could be possible with some budget electric vehicles and a refreshed compact car lineup and both are in the works.

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Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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