Malaysian automaker Proton on Thursday formalized its deal to sell and service vehicles from premium electric vehicle (EV) brand Smart Automobile Company (smart) in Malaysia and Thailand by signing a general distributorship agreement.

The first smart model to be sold by Proton during the first phase of the collaboration will be launched in early the fourth quarter of 2023, Proton said in a statement.

While Proton’s collaboration with smart is primarily a retail operation, Proton said there are big picture developments to pave the way for its entry into the new energy vehicle market.

For instance, the company announced its intention to invest in a charging network by collaborating with a local charging provider as well as to provide and install domestic units for customers who intend to charge their vehicles at home.

Proton also announced its intention to model retail operations for smart on what the company does in other markets.

Therefore, there will be a heavy emphasis on an integrated digital lifestyle and other elements that will marry customer preferences with a connected digital solution encompassing journey planning, charging availability and even purchase considerations.

Another facet the company is exploring is to use its entry into the market segment to attract young talents.

With the rapid shift in job preference for new workers, Proton will use its long-term plans for sustainability and energy efficiency as well as increasing its environment, social and governance (ESG) scores to appeal to the next generation of automotive industry workers.

“Today marks a big step for Proton’s entry into the new energy vehicle market. The first phase of business with smart is focused on retailing but it provides us with valuable knowledge and experience on not only how to service and charge EVs but also how to transform the way we interact with our customers,

“The move into this market segment will also help drive PROTON’s move towards being more environmentally friendly in all facets of our operations as we work to help Malaysia achieve its carbon neutrality target by 2050,” said Li Chunrong, Chief Executive Officer of Proton.

In January last year, Germany-based Mercedes-Benz and China-based Geely Holding formally established global joint venture “smart Automobile Co., Ltd.” for the smart brand after receiving the regulatory approvals. Geely holds 49.9 percent stake in Proton.

The global headquarters of the new joint venture has been set in Hangzhou Bay, Ningbo with operational sales functions based in China and Germany. The new generation of smart vehicles will be designed by the worldwide Mercedes-Benz Design network and developed by the Geely global engineering network.

Future production will be located in China, smart said in a statement then.

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