A Remarkable Achievement Page 2

A Remarkable Achievement Page 2

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Tonight,
Malaysians have had the first glimpse of the long-awaited Proton model for the
new millennium. Under development since 1996, the all-new model which was
codenamed ‘GX’ is more than just another new product of
the national carmaker. It heralds Proton’s ‘coming of age’ as an automobile
manufacturer as it is the first model developed almost entirely by Proton.

There
had been speculation over the past couple of years that this new model –
called the Waja – would either be based on the Mitsubishi Lancer or the
Mitsubishi Carisma, a model which Mitsubishi jointly developed with
Volvo (the Volvo version is the S40) primarily for the European market.
While not directly denying suggestions of the Carisma being the basis,
Proton officials stress that the Waja is very much an indigenous design
and that Proton will not pay royalties to Mitsubishi.

The latest
Mitsubishi Carisma – note the almost similar nose design.

But
there is no denial of Mitsubishi’s involvement in the project; after all, it is
one of Proton’s major technical partners and a shareholder. “During the GX
programme, we had, among other parties, Mitsubishi and Renault assisting us with
platform engineering, powertrain design and manufacturing techniques,”
Proton’s General Manager for R&D and New Platform Development, Kamarulzaman
bin Darus, told AUTOWORLD.COM.MY. The
Renault connection will be explained a bit further on in this report.

In terms of styling, the Waja does not really resemble the Carisma although the
door openings and the small window adjacent to the C-pillars appear similar to
the Volvo S40 (the Carisma C-pillar is more conventional). The front end appears
to be an evolution of the corporate nose which started with the Iswara.
Interestingly, the Carisma facelift developed at the Mitsubishi European design
centre also features a similar ‘split grille-nose’
design (maybe they like Proton’s look?).

Spy photos of the Waja which began appearing last year showed a rather
pronounced Alfa Romeo-like ‘beak’ which ‘cut’ into the bumper and the reaction
of many who saw those photos was negative. It would seem that
Proton’s designers noted the remarks and the ‘beak’ stops on top of the bumper
now.

At the back, the first
response to the appearance will be ‘Mercedes-Benz’ because of the way the
bootlid opening between the lights is shaped. The third brake light is
integrated in the bootlid and the light clusters are large
and distinctive. A ‘bee sting’ antenna is mounted on the trailing edge of the
roof while, in the prototype shown to the press, there were twin tailpipes under
the bumper.

The dimensions of the Waja fall between those of the Wira and the Perdana. It is
4,465 mm in overall length (145 mm shorter than the Perdana, 105 mm longer than
the Wira), has an overall width of 1,740 mm (10 mm wider than the Perdana, 50 mm
wider than the Wira) and stands 1,420 mm high (20 mm taller than the Perdana, 35
mm taller than the Wira). The wheelbase is 2,600 mm which is 100 mm longer than
the Wira but 35 mm shorter than the Perdana, while the front track is 1,475 mm
and the rear track is 1,470 mm.

It is likely that Mitsubishi’s model served as a starting point for Proton’s
development team but Proton did not take Mitsubishi’s engineering drawings and
instead carried out its own engineering work and made its own decisions on what
the model would become. In this respect, Proton’s declaration of having
developed its own model would be valid and also praiseworthy.

Paying royalties has been something of a ‘thorn in Proton’s side’, according to
Proton CEO Tengku Datuk Paduka Mahaleel. In today’s highly competitive auto
industry, it’s already tough trying to make a decent profit and then a
significant amount of that profit has to be used to pay Mitsubishi royalty fees.
Proton has been paying dearly for adapting Mitsubishi’s designs of the Lancer
(Saga, Iswara, Wira), Colt (Satria), Eterna (Perdana) and Citroen’s
AX (Tiara) and royalties are reported to cost as much as RM500 million on the
life of a product.

“We were determined to end this ‘liability’ and achieve total product
ownership,” he told AUTOWORLD.COM.MY. “With Proton’s strong
engineering and design capabilities, I was confident we could do it.”

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