Proton Persona - CNG on a Budget
Proton are continuing their assault on the Thai market with the Persona CNG. The Persona enters a very very tough segment, with existing models have very commanding positions. We can't go far here without comparisons to the almost bulletproof Vios and the equally solid City, and this is what the Persona faces.
So does it stand a chance? Who is going to buy a Malaysian Proton, ahead of locally assembled and safe options like the Toyota and Honda. Read on to find out....
The Persona is based on the Gen 2 platform, and shares much from the 5-door car's parts bin. The addition of a boot, and some softening of the suspension are the main differences here.
Actually, the Proton Persona CNG is probably not going to shake up the motoring industry in Thailand. Toyota and Honda sales and marketing teams are unlikely to miss any sleep over the addition to the market either. But Proton will sell Persona's in Thailand, and here's why:
The first major advantage the Persona CNG has over competitors is the CNG tank bolted into the boot. There aren't too many new cars out there with CNG as an option, and the Proton is the first in this segment.
Although the price of fuel like Gasohol 91, 95 and E20 have dropped substantially over the past few months, there is still good reason to opt for CNG. The price of CNG has been fixed at just THB 8.50 per Kg, this will equate to lower fuel costs.
The Persona CNG still has a 50 litre fuel tank for the E20 (or Gasohol 91/95) if you get tired queueing with the taxis for CNG, or if you wish to extend your range. At least the option is still there.
Of course it is possible to retro-fit a CNG installation in a City or Vios, but this will add expense and void your warranty. With the Persona you are getting the CNG kit from the start, and it is backed by Proton.
The second major advantage that the Persona has over everything else in the segment is the price. THB 549,000 is a competitive price point. I mean, even if you ignored the fact that this thing included CNG, this would represent decent value. Factor in the CNG kit, and it is starting to look like a bargain.
The Persona CNG comes in 3 specifications the Medium Line with manual transmission at THB 549,000, the Medium Line with 4-speed automatic for THB 584,000 and the top-spec High Line costing THB 629,000.
From here on I'm going to completely ignore the Medium Line cars. They do come equipped with a driver's airbag as standard (come on Honda and Toyota!), but they lack ABS, EBD and seat belt pre-tensioners from the High Line. So assuming that we all care enough about safety to shell out an extra THB 80,000 for these features, let's see how the Proton Persona CNG High Line AT stacks up against the competition.
The Persona CNG is powered by a 1,597 cc DOHC Campro engine. The engine provides 110 hp which is nothing special. This is on-par with the Vios and Tiida, but is eclipsed by the 1.5 litre Honda unit in the City that produces 120 hp. Still I would say that Proton aren't too far behind here. The engine is a modern unit with multi-point fuel injection, and will no doubt offer enough for the purpose it was designed for. (This is not a racing car guys.)
Here the Persona CNG is a bit of a surprise. The High Line has two airbags, ABS, EBD and seat belt pre-tensioners. A City with dual airbags will set you back THB 644,000.
I haven't seen any crash test results for this car yet, but the same goes for both Toyota Vios and City.
Vios and City win. The end. Well... yes and no. While the Proton will have a hard job living with the quality of the competition, there are some nice touches on the Persona that belie its price. Besides, are a few rough edges going to put you off on a car in this price range?
Here is where things get a little more complex. Remember, the Proton has CNG and the others don't. But the Proton is still cheaper to begin with. The Persona CNG is easily the cheapest of the three, and Nissan's Tiida is also a tad higher with dual airbag models starting at around THB 669,000.
However, you might assume that the cheaper price of the Proton Persona suggests that they have cut back on features, but it doesn't seem to be the case. The Persona has 60/40 split folding rear seats as standard, disc brakes all around, rear-parking sensors, steering-wheel audio controls, electric windows (front), electric mirrors, MP3, fog lamps, etc.
So they didn't skimp on equipment.
And the Persona is larger than the City in all dimensions except height. The wheelbase is 50 mm longer, and the car is also wider and longer than the City.
What hope has it got?
The Proton Persona is a decent looking car. The specification is quite good given the price, and to get CNG in a new car at this price, without too many compromises seems to make the Persona CNG a winner.
However, many will shy away from the deal because buying a Vios or a City is the "smart" choice. A Toyota or Honda will run on air, never break down, gain value every year you drive it until you finally sell it on for a profit in 20 years when everything is still working perfectly.
The Proton on the other hand will lose one third of its value as soon as you are handed the keys. Bits will fall off it on your way to your house, and it will develop a new squeak or rattle on every journey. It will drink fuel, and cost an arm and a leg to run. On top of all of that, nobody in Thailand knows how to service Proton cars, whereas any kid old enough to hold a hammer can fix a Toyota or Honda.
Okay, so it's not quite like that, but the fact remains that Toyota and Honda have each built up a reputation for quality and reliability and the word has got around. Deserved or not, this reputation means high resale value, and it makes life very easy for Honda and Toyota sales people. Try going to a Honda or Toyota dealer and see how long it takes before they ask you what colour you would like your new car to be.
Proton has a mountain to climb in Thailand, but I think they have started on the right foot. If they can provide strong backup and service and build a air of confidence around their products..... but wake up from this. Proton hasn't managed to do this in its own country.