Safety is an extremely difficult feature to sell. If people bought cars because of their reputation for safety, you would see a Volvo parked on every street. The reality is that a marketing campaign that revolves around power and dynamics can outshine any effort to build a car that puts human life first.
Yet when it was time for Proton to transform themselves into a globally competitive car making machine, their number one priority became safety. They had to overcome the stigma of making unsafe cars, which they got from a time where even luxury brands had huge obstacles to overcome in this area.
Thankfully, by the time the Preve and Suprima S were in development, many essential and effective technologies have become relatively accessible, even to a comparatively small-volume player like Proton. Take for instance, Hot Press Forming (HPF), a manufacturing process involving heating steel to 900 degrees Celsius before shaping it into part of the chassis and cooling it. This process changes the structure of the alloy on a molecular level, hardening it by several factors.
Proton’s Chief Technical Officer, Abdul Rashid Musa, explained to us that his predecessor, Dr. Wolfgang Karl Epple had acquired the technology from Germany, making Malaysia the 6th country in the world to have it. “HPF allows us to build a Reinforced Safety Structure (RESS) around the passengers using steel that is 5-7 times stronger than regular steel,” said Rashid.
The Preve, Suprima S and Iriz all have these protective metal cocoons, which are so hard that firemen are advised to simply open the doors in the event of a crash as they’re not easy to cut through with conventional tools. As hard as it is on the outside, these cars all come with at least 2 airbags, with 6 airbags available on higher trims.
In fact, the Proton Iriz comes with a RESS, as well as Proton’s Vehicle Dynamic Control suite. This package incorporates Antilock-Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist as well as Traction Control and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) as standard. At just over RM40,000, no other manufacturer offers a package as uncompromising in safety as Proton does with the Iriz.
And if it all sounds like gimmicky, made-up buzzwords, consider this – a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the United States found that ESC alone reduced the likelihood of all fatal crashes by 43%. Moreover, its presences in a cars dropped the likelihood of fatal single-vehicle crashes by 56% and fatal single-vehicle rollovers by as much as 80%. That’s potentially life-saving technology in a car that costs half as much as its Japanese and European counterparts. ESC is also standard on the Preve and available on most Suprima S variants.
To reiterate, it really is difficult to sell a car on its safety features. But Proton don’t have to. Thankfully, they’ve learned a thing or two from Lotus. Rashid explained that Proton’s engineers no longer have to get the boys from Hethel in to tune their cars as the knowledge and technology transfer from Lotus has been successful. But we didn’t have to take his word for it, and neither should you as they’re very open to the public trying out their vehicles.
Having sampled the 5-speed manual variant of the Iriz ourselves, we’re happy to report that safety isn’t the only thing they have going for them. If there’s a real selling point, it really is in the drive. It’s not a mere subjective ‘European’-ness of the design and cabin feel – it’s the actual European parts, like the gearbox and electric power steering that complete the experience.
It’s clear that Proton is finally the company we all hoped it would be. Of course, it will take years for the brand’s image to recover – but it’s finally taking the right steps. For the first time in the company’s history they’re putting the customer first by putting safety first.