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Proton Says Profit Slides

Malaysia's national automaker Proton said its annual profit slid by nearly a third due to restructuring expenses at its British sports car unit Lotus.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Malaysia's national automaker Proton said Wednesday its annual profit slid by nearly a third due to restructuring expenses at its British sports car unit Lotus.

Net profit of 152 million ringgit ($49.6 million) for the financial year ended March was down 31 percent from the year before. Revenue rose nine percent to nearly 9 billion ringgit ($2.9 billion).

But for the January-March quarter, net profit surged almost 23-fold to 61.6 million ringgit ($20.1 million) from 2.6 million ringgit amid better car sales. Revenue climbed 16 percent to 2.6 billion ringgit ($845 million).

Managing Director Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir said Proton plans to raise capital expenditure to 1.6 billion ringgit ($522 million) in the current financial year. Half of that will go toward revamping Lotus, he said.

Proton aims to revive loss-making Lotus as a premium sports car maker by 2015 so that it can leverage on the brand's strengths to build better cars, improve the profile of the Proton brand and tap new markets overseas.

"Signs are encouraging that the turnaround plan by Lotus is right on track. We need to invest for a sustainable future. The group will continue to invest in the development of new technologies and improve operational efficiencies to sustain earnings," Syed Zainal told reporters.

Last year, Proton's capital spending was about 900 million ringgit which included a 222 million ringgit grant from the government for the development of hybrid and electric vehicles.

The Malaysian automaker is jointly developing small cars with Lotus that will be launched in two years for global markets, Syed Zainal said.

Proton is gearing up for Malaysian market liberalization in 2016 when a freeze on auto manufacturing licenses is expected to be lifted, which will lead to greater competition and pressure to reduce vehicle prices.

The automaker hopes to boost exports especially to China and India through alliances with local partners, Syed Zainal said.

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