The inspiration to take the
initiative to develop its own car also came from the Prime Minister in April
1996, urging the national carmaker to have confidence that “Proton Boleh!”.
A few months later, in June 1996, the first
meeting for the new model codenamed ‘GX’ got things rolling. The aim was to
create a Proton model which, as Tengku Mahaleel told his team, “the public
would not say was ‘a clone of a Mitsubishi or a Citroen'”.
That year too was the beginning of Proton’s massive investment in its R&D
facilities to make a significant leap in design and engineering capability. In
support of the development work, the number of engineers doubled from
150 to 300. A development budget of RM970 million was set and a gestation period
of 36 months was targeted. In comparison, the original Saga took 54 months while
the Wira took 48 months; in future, the aim is to develop a new model within 30
months. In terms of time, it took 1.7 million engineering man-hours from start
to pilot production of the Waja.
“By having our own platform, we can also develop additional variants as and
when we wish,” explained GX Program Director Muhamad Aman. The variants he
mentioned range from utility vehicles to MPVs and 4WDs. It will depend on what
the market wants but on Proton’s drawing boards are another 11 possible
variants, besides the 4-door sedan. Some will appear in the course of the life
of the platform which is expected to be between ten
and twelve years.
An early development target was to increase body strength, an aspect of concern
to Malaysian consumers who believe that Proton bodyshells are inherently weak.
To address this, Proton used the skilled resources of Lotus
Engineering and also its own superior R&D facilities that include CATIA
computer-aided design software. The result is a body structure claimed to be the
strongest ever built by Proton and twice the strength of the Wira. [Click “Safety” below for more details].
The Waja will initially be offered with a choice of three engines – 1.6-litre
petrol, 1.8-litre petrol and 1.9-litre turbodiesel. The 1.6-litre is a
Mitsubishi 4G18 unit and does not appear to be the same one as that used in
present Proton models. But the other two engines are supplied by Renault’s
engine- marketing subsidiary, Renault Moteurs. [Click
“Engines” below for more details.].
According to Tengku Mahaleel, Proton signed the engine supply deal two years ago
and spent 18 months adapting the French engines and transmissions to the new
model. Although he maintains that it is still important for a carmaker to have
its own engine, there are situations where it is more economical to buy
powerplants from others.
In this case, he said that the Renault engines were found to meet Proton’s
requirements regarding performance, weight, price and other aspects. In
particular, European manufacturers are far better at designing diesel engines
than the Japanese so it was sensible to get one of theirs. At the same time, the
fact that Proton has been able to choose whatever engine it wants for its
products underlines an important point about its independence.
The turbodiesel is more important for the European market than the Malaysian one
and will obviously figure significantly in exports. Perhaps it will also be
welcome by Malaysian limousine operators who have not found the Wira Diesel’s
size practical for transporting tourists with a lot of luggage.
The possibility of the Petronas engine being included later has not been ruled
out but no confirmation was made by Proton. Tengku Mahaleel said that when he
does put the Petronas engine in, the Waja would have as much as 95% local
content and imported parts would be no more than RM500.
Getting a high level of local content in its products was also a vital objective
as imported parts add significantly to the cost. At one time just a few years
ago, component costs represented a substantial 65% of a Proton model, affecting
its price competitiveness in the global context.
“With the Waja, we anticipate that as much as RM400 million will be saved
on outflow of foreign exchange that would have been used for buying parts from
Japan and other countries,” revealed Tengku Mahaleel. At the same time, he
added, the car would be able to bring in at least RM450 million in export
The Waja will be produced at Proton’s Medium-Volume plant in its Shah Alam
complex. This 53,200 sq. metre plant started operations in 1997 and contributes
50,000 units to Proton’s total output of 230,000 units annually. Much work has
gone into preparing the plant for production of the Waja due to its extensive
use of modular assembly and more automated processes.
[ Click “Modular Engineering” below for more details.].