Proton actually comes from PeRusahaan OTOmobil Nasional which roughly translates to National Automobile Enterprise in Malaysian. That’s right, Proton is a Malaysian car manufacturer which first started out in 1983, following the wishes of former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad.
At first, parts and technology came from Mitsubishi but later on, as experience accumulated, Proton became independent even if most of the cars were still based on Mitsubishi models. Their first model which was launched in 1985 was called the Proton Saga. Soon after the first Sagas were rolling on Malaysian streets, exports started to Bangladesh (1986) and by 1987 Proton had already made 50,000 units.
That same year a distribution agreement with a UK dealer was made in order to ship Sagas over to the British Isles but that would materialize only in 1989, when 150,000 units were already produced and plans for a engine assembly plant were already under way, the inauguration being celebrated in 1991.
A new model, the Proton Ishwara was launched in 1992 and then in 1993 the Wira, a model based on the Mitsubishi Colt, which enjoyed moderate success with 220,000 units sold over 2 years. In 1994, the Proton Satria joined the model line-up and in 1996 the Proton Tiara.
With thousands of models sold both domestically and internationally (in about 31 countries around the world), Proton was gaining in financial power which enabled it to purchase Lotus technologies in 1996, a move which earned it a much needed technological infusion. a new sports model car will emerge from this partnership, the Proton Ultimate, announced for the first time in 2001.
Another partnership was announced in 2004 with Volkswagen AG where the Malaysian manufacturer would gain access to German technology and in return it would offer its facilities for foreign car manufacturing. However, this plan fell through by 2006, when Volkswagen announced the two companies would go their separate ways because they couldn’t agree on the terms.
That same year, Proton suffered a massive drop in sales which caused a $169 million loss in profit. This was the basis of the rumor that Volkswagen was actually interested in purchasing 51% of the company. Interestingly enough, just by announcing that Proton would try to get out of the crisis alone, the company’s stock dropped overnight to an all-time low.