Li Chunrong was hired by Chinese automaker Geely to revive the fortunes of the Proton brand in Malaysia, and it took him two years to eclipse Japanese giants Honda and Toyota. Now he plans to take the fight across Southeast Asia and beyond.
Li, appointed Proton CEO in 2017 when Geely acquired 49.9% of the company, has turned around a once-celebrated Malaysian marque that had to rely on state aid after a string of losses, with his success built on an aggressive cost-cutting drive.
Now Geely has told the Proton boss to expand across the region, initially focusing on Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei, Li told Reuters - the first time concrete details of the brand’s expansion plans have been disclosed.
Like Malaysia, they are right-hand drive markets so require fewer car modifications. Proton also aims to drive into the Middle East and increase sales to Egypt, said the 56-year-old Chinese national.
Li did not give specific timeframes for expansion into individual markets, but said Proton wanted to raise overseas sales - which stood at about 1,000 cars last year, or 1% of total sales - at least four-fold this year.
The carmaker wants 40% of its sales to come from foreign markets by 2027, he told Reuters in two interviews, identifying Thailand and Indonesia as the key markets but declining to outline his strategy to crack them.
“We have a good foundation,” he said. “We commit that, every year, we will launch a new model.”