Geely, one of the leading automakers in China, has partnered with Proton Holdings, a Malaysian car company, to tap into the growing electric vehicle (EV) market in Southeast Asia. The two companies have announced a $10 billion investment plan in Malaysia, which will include building a new EV plant, developing a regional supply chain, and training local talent.
Geely, which owns 49.9% of Proton, has been providing management and technical support to the Malaysian company since 2017. Proton, which was founded in 1983 as a national car project, has seen its domestic market share rise to 20% from the teens, thanks to the popular sport utility vehicles (SUVs) it launched with Geely’s help.
However, Proton has been slow to enter the EV market, which is expected to grow rapidly in Southeast Asia as governments and consumers seek greener and more efficient transportation options. Proton only released its first hybrid vehicle in May this year, and plans to launch its own brand of fully electric vehicles in 2025.
Proton to distribute Smart EVs in Malaysia and Thailand
To accelerate its EV strategy, Proton has teamed up with Smart Automobile, a joint venture between Geely and Mercedes-Benz Group, to distribute the compact EVs from the Smart brand in Malaysia and Thailand. Proton started taking preorders for the Smart EV in September, and aims to deliver the first batch by the end of this year.
Proton and Smart also signed a memorandum of agreement in September to assemble the Smart EVs at Proton’s facilities in Malaysia. This will make Proton the first company in Southeast Asia to produce EVs from a global brand.
The Smart EV, which is designed for urban mobility, has a range of 305 km on a single charge, and can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.9 seconds. The EV also features a 10.25-inch touchscreen, a digital instrument cluster, and a voice assistant.
Geely eyes regional economic integration through EV development
Geely, which sells EVs in China under multiple brands, including Zeekr, Volvo, and Polestar, has been relatively quiet in the Southeast Asian EV market until recently. But last month, Geely Chairman Li Shufu expressed his confidence and ambition for the region.
“We’re confident in the market prospects of Southeast Asian countries, and we’ll jointly build regional economic integration through high-quality development,” Li said.
Geely’s goal is to nurture Proton into one of the top three auto brands in Southeast Asia, and EVs will be indispensable to that objective. Geely also plans to train 5,000 people in the new energy vehicle sector within five years, and create a regional supply chain that will benefit local businesses and consumers.
Geely’s investment in Malaysia is part of the country’s National Automotive Policy, which aims to transform the industry by 2030. The policy encourages the development of EVs, hybrid vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles, as well as the adoption of advanced technologies, such as autonomous driving and connected car services.