CEO wants Proton to become 1 of SE Asia's top-selling brands

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A new CEO appointed by Chinese automaker Geely to head Malaysia's Proton presented a 10-year plan to revitalize the national car maker as he vowed Friday to make Proton among Southeast Asia's top vehicle brands.

Geely Holding Group recently acquired 49.9 percent of Proton in a deal that gives the Chinese company a platform to expand in Southeast Asia where non-Japanese brands have struggled. Malaysian conglomerate DRB-Hicom Berhad retains a 50.1 percent stake in Proton.

Geely and DRB-Hicom announced in a joint statement that Li Chun Rong will take over as CEO of Proton's manufacturing arm in a management reshuffle but that he will be responsible for the entire operations of Proton.

Li, who has 30 years of experience in the auto sector, previously worked for major automakers such as Honda Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp. and China Dongfeng Motor Group, the statement said.

Li said it was time for a tough revamp to enable Proton to be a "top three ASEAN brand in the next 10 years." Officials said Li has presented to the Proton board a broad roadmap that includes new product offerings over the next decade to revive Proton.

Li said his first task over the next three months will be to bolster Proton's operations in areas such as product planning, research and development, quality improvement and procurement. He said Geely's Boyue SUV model will only be rolled out in Malaysia by the end of 2018 and that new cars to be designed by Proton will feature high-powered engines with lower oil consumption.

"The most important key for the company is to focus on customer satisfaction," Li said.

Proton Holdings Berhad was founded in 1983 by the Malaysian government to create a domestic auto brand and has a distribution network in key Southeast Asian markets. Its sales have suffered due to growing competition and a reputation for poor quality and bland models. Proton was privatized in 2012 but its new owner, DRB-Hicom, was unable to revive the business.

Geely is one of China's biggest independent auto brands.

Founded in 1986 as a refrigerator manufacturer, it started producing motorcycles in the 1990s and launched its first car in 2002. It bought Volvo from Ford Motor Co. in 2010.

The Chinese automaker said earlier the Proton deal would strengthen its global footprint and develop a beachhead in Southeast Asia.

The deal also marked a turning point in Malaysia's auto policy. The government has long resisted efforts to sell off any key stake in Proton, seen as a national icon.

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