Early this year, Proton Edar raised eyebrows by inking an agreement to become smart’s new distributor in Malaysia and Thailand. At the launch of the new Proton Saga last week, CEO Roslan Abdullah shed some light on the progress of the deal and the expected arrival of the brand’s new electric vehicle, the #1 SUV.
According to Roslan, who is also Proton’s deputy CEO, the car is on track to be launched next year to take advantage of the import tax, excise duty and road tax exemptions for imported EVs, which is due to expire at the end of 2023. He clarified that the #1 is one of the three all-new cars Proton CEO Li Chunrong said will be introduced over the next two years.
“Right now, there are some processes which we have completed, we are being very aggressive,” he said, referring to the details being ironed out. “We are chasing because it’s not just the media but also the general public that is asking when the car will be launched. We want to [finalise] the contract quickly as the car has already been launched in China.”
Roslan added that the definitive agreement is scheduled to be signed in December – a formality before the smart brand is relaunched in Malaysia – with some aspects of the deal being ahead of schedule. He also mentioned that the #1’s pricing in China is “very affordable”, although he expects the Malaysian-market model to have different specs and, therefore, price.
As yet, there are no plans to assemble the car locally, Roslan said, as the expected volume is too small to benefit from economies of scale. As a result, it is pushing for the government to extend the tax exemption to give it a bigger window to sell CBU vehicles.
Revealed to the world last month, the smart #1 (rather inelegantly pronounced the “hashtag one”) is the first product of a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Geely – the latter also holds a stake in Proton, hence the distributorship deal. It rides on Geely’s Sustainable Electric Architecture (SEA) and is slightly shorter than the Honda HR-V, although it is wider and taller.
The pebble-smooth crossover was designed by Stuttgart and features frameless windows, a slick-looking interior and things like a massive 12.8-inch centre touchscreen and a nine-speaker Beats sound system. In China, the #1 is offered with a single rear motor that pushes out 272 PS and 368 Nm of torque, along with a 66 kWh battery that delivers a range of 535 km (560 km on the Premium model thanks to different chemistry). Charging takes seven and a half hours with a 7.2 kW AC charger or half an hour with 150 kW of DC power.
Pricing in the Middle Kingdom is 190,000 yuan (RM123,700) for the regular Pro+ and 230,000 yuan (RM149,800) for the Premium, which also gets a suite of driver assistance tech, including Level 2 semi-autonomous driving. Could the #1 arrive in Malaysia with attractive sub-RM150,000 pricing? If so, it would be quite a bargain – especially as the more expensive MINI Cooper SE three-door hatchback, another part-German quasi-premium EV, is much smaller and has a far less useable range.
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