Yesterday, we spoke to Proton chief designer Azlan Othman and Geely Design Shanghai vice president Guy Burgoyne regarding the future direction of Proton Design. While the two were tight-lipped on the specifics, Azlan did tease a few key details about future Geely-based models.
Currently, the X70 and X50 are only differentiated from their Chinese counterparts, the Boyue and Binyue/Coolray, through small tweaks like the front grille and speaker grilles. Azlan, however, said that Proton will eventually progress to redesigning the entire body of the car, or the top hat in industry speak.
Addressing public comments about the lack of unique design cues on the SUVs, Azlan said, “What a lot of people tend to forget is the objective of the project. Maybe they just see one product, whereas us on this side of the fence, we see the total long-term picture. As we move from just entertaining CBU projects, we go to CKD and soon enough full top hat change, then I think the appreciation will improve.”
Azlan added that Proton is still in an evolutionary phase in terms of its design, as it is effectively rebadging Geely models. Designing a new top hat will give designers more freedom to make big changes, and Azlan is promising a “revolutionary” design language down the road – though don’t expect it to arrive so soon. “We started “Evolution 1.0” before and now we’re in 2.0. We even have a vision, five or six years ahead, of a “Revolution” look,” he said.
Part of the reason why Proton hasn’t made many aesthetic changes to the X70 and X50 are the limitations placed on the design of the cars. “Obviously, if we’re looking at the donor product concept, the limitations are more. But as we move to the other direction, a new top hat for example, the sky’s the limit,” Azlan said.
The general perception that Proton’s indigenous models look very different from its Geely-based ones also isn’t lost on Azlan, who said that the company needs time to build a more cohesive look. “I agree with all the netizens and general public out there.
“It is complex to have exactly the same look between the legacy and donor [cars]. We have to start small first, like the grille area, the wheels, a bit of the interior colour and trim concepts, and then we will grow [from there]. I urge the general public to understand the bigger picture, and it will only get better.”
“[Our collaboration] is still in its infancy, three years. We need to take it step-by-step, slowly work this marriage out first, and then we’ll show you what we can do.”
Even so, Azlan said that there will always be differences between the two types of Protons. “When it comes to the donor cars, we are quite reliant on our partner Geely for the best value that we can get from the collaboration. For the legacy cars, we have the freedom. I don’t think there will be a total convergence between the two, it doesn’t make sense for a Proton to look exactly like a Geely.”
Burgoyne added some comments as to why Proton’s SUVs look very similar to the Geely versions, saying that the company is focused on offering value to the customer – a wholesale visual revamp would cost more and detract from the value proposition.
“Most people don’t understand that with a great value product, there is a balance between uniqueness and commonality, and the commonality is in places which don’t necessarily affect the uniqueness of the brand, they’re in places that just provide great solutions and great value to the customer.
“Getting that balance right is a game nearly all car manufacturers play around the world across brands. There’s obviously a business part to it – if you make every single thing unique to every single market then the car’s gonna cost so much that you’re never going to sell any or you’re gonna make the customers unhappy.”
The news of a body redesign being in the pipeline opens the door to the possibility of Proton building cars on Geely’s B-segment Modular Architecture (BMA), which the X50 is based on. Rather than simply rebadging an existing car, the company could design car bodies and interiors that are completely unique to Proton but share the underlying platform and mechanical bits with Geely models.
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