Malaysian national car maker Proton said Monday its New Energy Vehicle (NEV) model plan is confirmed during the visit by Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI) Tengku Zafrul Aziz to Zeekr Intelligent Factory in Hangzhou Bay, Ningbo, China.

Proton said in a statement the company’s move into the NEV segment continued to gain momentum following the visit.

The visit to Ningbo comes a day after the Malaysia – China Business Forum was held in Beijing for business leaders from both nations and was attended by Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

The event saw the signing of a heads of agreement (HOA) document between DRB-Hicom and Geely that sealed their commitment to jointly invest, manage, and develop the Automotive High Tech Valley (AHTV) in Tanjung Malim, Malaysia into a smart city and hub for Next Generation Vehicles (NxGV).

Over the next ten years, AHTV is expected to attract investments worth an estimated MYR32 billion ($7.26 billion).

Founded in 2021, Zeekr is a premium electric automobile brand owned by Geely Automobile Holdings that specializes in electric cars and operates on a user-oriented enterprise philosophy, in line with being a smart mobility technology company.

The Zeekr Intelligent Factory maximizes the application of IR4.0 and 5G connectivity and epitomises the highest level of manufacturing efficiency.

While traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) powered cars remain the mainstay of Proton’s model range in the next few years, Proton has also established its NEV strategy for the near future.

Concurrently, through the collaboration with Geely, Proton continues to explore opportunities to accelerate NEV programs in line with the government’s aspirations toward enhancing NEV traction, especially toward offering affordable and practical NEV models, as well as pursuing local manufacturing and ecosystem development of NEV in Malaysia.

The first step to be taken will be the launch of the Proton X90, the latest addition to the brand’s range of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) powered by a mild-hybrid version of its 1.5 TGDI engine.

This will be followed by the Malaysian market introduction of the smart #1 by PRO-NET in the fourth quarter of 2023.

After the visit by the MITI minister, there are now plans to expand the range of offerings and include vehicle segments new to Proton.

“I am pleased to highlight after five years into their partnership, Proton and Geely have made great strides in bringing new products, technology, and investment to Malaysia,” said Syed Faisal Albar, Chairman of Proton.

Following the signing of the HOA in Beijing on April 1, he said it is now clear AHTV has great potential to attract MYR32 billion ($7.26 billion) of investment and the visit to Ningbo demonstrated the Proton and Geely partnership wil continue to prosper with the future implementation of NEV programs.

He acknowledged the importance of Malaysia becoming the regional hub for NxGV products hence Proton as the national brand will play an active role in contributing significantly towards achieving the nation’s goals.

“To be competitive, Proton and the automotive ecosystem must invest in research and development (R&D), as well as advanced manufacturing processes,

“With progressive development of AHTV and constant engagement among stakeholders especially the Government of Malaysia, DRB-Hicom, Geely Group, Proton and automotive ecosystem, these goals are within reach,” he added.

Since 2018 with support from DRB-Hicom and Geely, Proton has invested more than MYR3.3 billion ($750 million) as part of its performance turnaround initiatives, which covers product development, new technology integration, manufacturing expansion and human capital development especially in new and emerging technologies.

With the development of AHTV, more investments are planned to focus on new products and technologies, including new energy solutions and intelligent technologies.

The pursuance of transformation initiatives is particularly important for the company hence synergy with Geely in technology development is vital towards achieving the strategic goals.

As of today, steps have already been taken towards achieving Proton’s long-term goals.

A permanent office has been established at the Geely Automobile Research Institute (GRI) in Hangzhou Bay to facilitate all development activities between the engineering teams.

The company has already assigned 18 engineers based to be based there on the first phase of R&D and NEV development programs and more will be assigned soon, a move that will help accelerate the transfer of technology.

“Proton is now in the second half of its ten-year business plan. Besides the hiccups caused by two years of pandemic control measures, we are pleased with the progress made so far,” said Li Chunrong, Chief Executive Officer of Proton.

Over the next five years, he said the firm aims to work even more closely with Geely and expand its offerings as the market for NEVs grows.

This in turn will help develop the national automotive ecosystem and push Malaysia towards its target of being an NxGV hub, he added.

“We will also expand our focus to include other aspects that support the industry,

“For example, charging infrastructure development is a priority for NEVs so we will optimize synergy with Geely group of companies to enhance the NEV infrastructure for Proton and the ecosystem in Malaysia,” he said.

Malaysia government in talks with Proton, Perodua to expedite production of national EVs – report