Proton X70 SUVs complete Hangzhou mission; Geely Bin Yue aka Proton X50 a highlight

By LEE PANG SENG | 18 April 2019

PRIDE of vehicle ownership stems from various sources; the long-standing reputation of a brand in making reliable and comfortable vehicles, a marque that subscribes to exclusive tastes or outrageous performance, or simply in awe of a fast-growing entity that seems sound in its development approach.

The final criterion is best subscribed to by Dr Ling Tung King who organised the Proton X70 13,000km-plus and 33-day round-trip drive from the Klang Valley to Hangzhou in China, via Thailand and a short 200km plus route through Laos.

As a person who had participated in and organised marathon drives to explore places mostly in China over the last 10 years, he noticed the Geely brand during one of those adventures and was impressed by how it had grown over the years into a major player on the world automotive platform.

Geely headquarters in Hangzhou
Geely headquarters in Hangzhou

When Proton came into a partnership with Geely and the X70 SUV (sports utility vehicle) was introduced, he bought not one but two X70s to add to his growing fleet of personal-cum-professional use vehicles; he is involved in the veterinary services.

We met up during a visit to Geely’s Experience Centre within the premises of Geely’s headquarters in Hangzhou where the entourage of nine Proton X70 SUVs were assembled and the drive tour participants given an insight into Geely Auto.

Needless to say, the Geely Bin Yue, a smaller SUV model, which was put on display in the Geely Experience Centre drew much attention as the participants oohed at the vehicle while getting a firsthand feel of the compact SUV in addition to the selfies and wefies being taken.

It’s an open secret that the Bin Yue would eventually assume the guise of the Proton X50 as a ‘prototype’ vehicle is already being put through its paces on Malaysian roads.

Geely Bin Yue
Geely Bin Yue

Geely Bin Yue (3)

Dr Ling, who is 62, takes pride in the fact that it took him under three months to organise this marathon drive event, of which 25 days are spent motoring through various townships and tourist places in the southern part of China.

The general feedback from the participants was generally positive regarding the smooth and comfortable ride and the low fuel highway consumption of under 8l/100km (about 12.5km/l).

The second feature was important as the participants have to pay for fuel and toll, although Proton as a part sponsor has provided a RM1,000 petrol allowance per vehicle, among other support.

Apparently, Proton has also been planning a marathon drive involving the X70 for quite some time but decided to ride on this event to Hangzhou.

It appears that such marathon drives are beginning to catch the imagination of other car brands, including Perodua, which organised an event for Aruz owners to motor from Kuching to Tawau over a 1,500km route.

Geely Bin Yue
Geely Bin Yue

Many would be surprised though that such marathons actually go back many years, to the year that the Proton Saga was first introduced to the market in 1985 (Geely started making cars in 1998 although it started in 1986 with making refrigerator parts and components).

We were part of that 1985 adventure, which was dubbed the Sabah-Sarawak Sagathon to pun on the first Proton car model’s name.

The route back then (we relied on a general map and rally route guide) was more than 40% dirt tracks in timber trails, estate roads and overgrown patches linking remote villages.

The Sagas were shod with normal road tyres and we covered the 1,200km plus journey from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching over two days, with a night stopover in Miri.

What we remembered most about the 1985 event was flying to Kota Kinabalu in an army Hercules plane as we accompanied the Raja Muda of Selangor (now the current Sultan) and his Saga, painted in Selangor flag colours of yellow and red.

Geely Jia Ji MPV
Geely Jia Ji MPV

We also had a little excursion during the off-road drive by ramming into a mound of earth while following blindly in the dust trail of the Raja Muda’s Saga.

Coming back to the present day, our visit to Geely was a bit underwhelming although we sort of expected it to be so.

Having visited the premises of many long established car makers in Japan and Europe, the Geely Experience Centre was a place you could cover in mere minutes while we could barely cover half the place for the other brands.

Given that scenario, credit should still be accorded to Geely for its tremendous effort to build itself as a credible player in the global automotive market.

It bought Volvo of Sweden, a car maker rich with history and achievements, and turned it into a profitable company with a strong range of vehicles as well as the iconic London taxi and shares in Daimler.

The enthusiasm and positive vibes were effervescent among the media team members we met, including Victor Yang, vice-president of public relations Geely Group.

Geely Bo Rui GE
Geely Bo Rui GE

During the interview, he was very hands-on about Geely, the directions it is going and how it has to react to the ever-changing whims of the market, both China and elsewhere.

Just as Geely has helped Volvo turned around in under 10 years, he foresees Geely having a similar target with Proton such as producing a million cars at the end of a similar period.

Lotus is a more specialised product but he believes it still needs economy of scale to gain profitability and a firmer foothold in the automotive industry.

A design centre is set up in the UK, a research and development facility is in Germany and a state-of-the-art manufacturing centre for Lotus is planned for China.

While Geely is setting its sights on China and US as the main markets for Lotus, he says there is generally a need to move fast to meet consumer demand especially in introducing new and green technology that the younger customers are ready to embrace.

He gave an example of consumer demand in China; the buying trend for SUVs had been increasingly strong till 2018 when the demand for cars was slightly higher.

This was due to the fact that the market was warming up significantly to electric vehicles (EVs) and most of the EV range comprises cars as they were lighter to power on electricity.

Geely responded by introducing a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) car (Bo Rui GE) as well as an SUV PHEV and an electric car is well in the pipeline.

It already has its first electric SUV, Emgrand GSE, with a range of 430km and an MPV (multipurpose vehicle) PHEV in the Jia Ji, which is hailed as the first hybrid MPV in China.

A London Taxi displayed at Geely’s Experience Centre
A London Taxi displayed at Geely’s Experience Centre

On a global scale, Geely aims to be among the top 10 automotive makers by volume; in 2018, the Group produced 2.2 million vehicles and the lowest ranked brand among the top 10 sold 3.3 million units; as such the goal is within reach.

Geely’s success is driven by the belief that it could make cars cheaper (30-40%) against established brands without sacrificing quality and technology.

It has five research and development facilities worldwide and more than 15,000 engineers; as a carmaker driven by technology and the will to succeed, Geely is just embarking on the journey to be a world class player and its cars would continue to fuel pride of

ownership for many customers to come.