Like clockwork, 31 August 2020 opened the floodgates for Merdeka posts on all Malaysian social media feeds. The patriotism is inspiring, even in the automotive space filled with more foreign brands than local ones. But the prize for best car-related Merdeka post has to go to Proton, simply for the cheeky teaser it inserted into its video marking 63 years of Malaysian independence.
Yes, we've finally been given an official glimpse of the Proton X50 after ages of speculation and anticipation. It has been two years since the compact crossover broke cover globally as the Geely Binyue after all. To add salt to the wound, the car was launched in Philippines as the Geely Coolray in 2019. So why is its Malaysian passport taking so long to process?
Like the Geely Boyue on which the Proton X70 is based, the Binyue is a left-hand drive vehicle that would fit right onto Filipino roads without modification. You'd think that a corporation with as much resources as the Volvo-owning Zhejiang Geely Holdings would have no trouble inverting the blueprints to give us a right-hand drive car. But it's a complex undertaking even for a multinational partnership endowed with money and manpower.
The conversion from Geely Boyue to Proton X70, for instance, involved the re-engineering of 761 individual components. This includes the dashboard, steering console, pedals, door controls, brakes, gearbox, headlights, wipers and air-conditioning ducts to name a few. And the work did not stop there.
Climate differences were the next major factor influencing the localisation effort, and Proton is a company committed to retaining its age-old reputation for giving Malaysians the best air-conditioning in a car on a bright and sunny day in KL. This meant some changes to the X70's cooling and rubber components, with the engine management system also recalibrated to cope with Malaysia's unique terrain and altitudes. In addressing these areas, Geely officially states that "a Proton X70 must be able to withstand Kuala Lumpur’s standstill traffic at 34°C daily, drive up to the mountainous retreat of Genting Highlands at over 6,000 feet where the air is thinner, as well as survive the treacherous landscape of eastern Borneo".
After the optimisation of hardware came the tests for performance, safety, emissions and such, of which the Boyue had 548 to undergo when it was first developed. The Proton X70 had to repeat a quarter of them due to different regulations, localised driving habits and fuel availability (China-spec cars are still tuned to run on RON92). And then there was the challenge of getting local vendors on-board, with 45 percent of the X70's components being sourced locally at time of writing.
The successful localisation of the Proton X70 would have undoubtedly laid the groundwork for the Proton X50. And two years does still seems like a long time for a conversion process that many established carmakers undertake concurrently with the development of a new vehicle. However, the amount of work needed to get the X70 reliably onto our roads is an indication of what needs to be done by Proton and Geely before we can finally see an X50 in local showrooms. If anything, the delay could even be good news to Malaysians who are waiting to drop their hard-earned savings on the downpayment of a brand new X50 to replace their ageing rides, IF the time is truly being used to fine-tune the crossover to our market.
The unique shade of blue the elusive X50 sports in Proton's video does not look like anything we've seen on a Binyue before (we could be mistaken). This might be a hint at a CKD X50 being launched from the off, which is potentially good news for affordability, unless Proton decides to go crazy with the spec sheet - we shouldn't read too much into it. Either way, we can safely expect a handsome new crossover with promising specs that should be a tad more rakyat-friendly than the X70.
The question is, are you patient enough?