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Proton Profit Surges 87 Percent

Malaysian national carmaker Proton reported an 87 percent jump in quarterly profit, thanks to strong sales of its Exora multipurpose vehicle.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Malaysian national carmaker Proton reported an 87 percent jump in its quarterly profit and said it was not threatened by the launch of a seven-seater multipurpose vehicle by its domestic rival Perodua.

Proton said in a statement Monday it posted a net profit of 82 million ringgit ($24.3 million) for the quarter through September. Revenue rose 13.5 percent to 2.1 billion ringgit ($621 million) as Proton expanded its market share to 29 percent from 26 percent a year earlier.

Proton's Managing Director Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir said sales had risen 11 percent from the previous quarter, thanks to strong demand for its Exora multipurpose vehicle which was launched in March as well as the Saga and Persona sedans.

The Exora marks a turning point in Proton's product range, which previously focused only on passenger cars. The Exora accounts for at least a third of sales, but faces a stiff challenge after compact car maker Perodua launched a multipurpose vehicle touted to be the cheapest in the market.

"We expect some impact to the overall sales ... but our network has been prepared. We have a plan. We are not going to be threatened," Syed Zainal told reporters. "We believe the Exora has a better value proposition but we let the customer judge."

Perodua, partly owned by Japanese mini-car maker Daihatsu Motor Corp., overtook Proton in 2006 to become the top selling car maker in Malaysia and has maintained its pole position since.

Earlier Monday, Perodua launched the Alza, its first multipurpose vehicle and first 1.5 liter engine car. All its other vehicles have engines of between 0.6 and 1.3 liter.

Priced between $56,000 ringgit ($16,570) and $70,000 ringgit ($20,700), officials said they expect to sell 4,000 units of the Alza a month -- far more than Proton's monthly target of 2,500 units for the Exora.

Perodua has a 31 percent market share so far this year in Malaysia -- the largest passenger car market in Southeast Asia -- and expects to increase its share to 33 percent next year, officials said.

The Exora, which has a 1.6 liter engine capacity, is priced at below $76,000 ringgit ($22,480). Proton recently introduced a basic Exora model minus the frills to lower the price to $58,000 ($17,160) -- closing the gap with Perodua's Alza.

Syed Zainal said Proton would introduce new facelift next year to its cars to sustain sales.

The company remains cautious about the outlook for vehicle demand amid the weak global economy but it will invest in new product development including hybrid and electric vehicles, and accelerate exports to grow its earnings, he said.

He said alliance talks with Volkswagen AG were ongoing and hopes they would be finalized soon but declined give further details.

For the first half of its fiscal year ending March 2010, Proton's net profit rose 42.5 percent from a year earlier to 136.61 million ringgit ($40 million) while revenue was up 11 percent to 3.96 billion ringgit ($1.17 billion).

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