Published on Bernama. com on November 17, 2003

Star performer

By Lena Liew
DOHA (Qatar) Nov 12 (Bernama): Know your enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will win a hundred victories. - Sun Tzu, "Art of War".

In Kuwait, Proton Wiras are commonly seen as taxis and fast food home delivery vehicles.

That's because Steve Shaw understands the local market and knows that Proton cars cannot compete against the dozens of better known Japanese and Korean brands of family sedans that have far better resale value.

"We had to find another edge and target Proton cars at commercial owners, rather than (Asian expatriate) private owners who inevitably have the resale value in mind when they buy a new car," said the general manager of Bahrah Trading Company (BTC), the distributor of Proton cars in Kuwait.

After all, "the Proton Wira has proven to be a very solid, robust vehicle that can withstand the abuse and hard work without breaking down ... despite the harsh climate here", he said in an interview with Bernama.

Hence the targetting of taxi operators and the various fast food outlets and restaurants which offer home delivery service.

"We're hardly reinventing the wheel. It's just simply marketing strategy," Shaw said, in response to comparisons with his counterparts in the other Arabian Gulf Cooperation Countries who are struggling to sell Proton cars to private owners.

Since 1997, when BTC first started importing Proton cars, it has managed to sell on average 1,000 cars a year. That's around 10 times what the Proton distributors in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are achieving.

"Last month (October) alone we sold 118 Proton Wiras," Shaw said.

That's not counting the 270 Proton Wiras the company sold in bulk to the franchise holder of the American fast food joints Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hardy's (known as Carl's Junior in some countries) for their home delivery service.

"We are getting queries to supply Proton cars in Iraq as well," Shaw said, outlining how market confidence has picked up after bottoming in the run-up to the recent United States-led war in neighbouring Iraq.

Shaw has ordered half a dozen Proton Arenas for display at the upcoming Kuwait International Motor Show end of this month, to gauge public response.

"I just received the pricing around six weeks ago," he said, declining to reveal more pending negotiations.

At present, a Proton Wira retails at US$7,100 while a Waja is US$12,000. BTC stopped selling Satria GTis after it failed to find its place in the market in Kuwait.

As part of its marketing strategy, the company offers free servicing for Proton cars up to 300,000km or three years, whichever comes first. The norm offered by the distributors of Japanese and Korean cars in this region is 5,000km.

On that count, it helps also that the Parts Division in Shah Alam is very responsive, efficient and supportive, such that customers don't face delays, Shaw said.

As part of its promotional efforts, BTC sponsors the Kuwaiti rally racer Esam Al-Najali, who last month won the Syrian round of the Middle East International Rally driving a modified 1,600cc Proton Wira.

When interviewed, Al-Najali was all praise for his Wira.

"It's fantastic ... very strong, solid and smooth," he said. "The people I met in Syria were very impressed ... nobody imagined that Malaysian-made car could be so good" with such minimal enhancement.

"The sponsorship by BTC for my Wira is not comprehensive, so there are still many expensive performance enhancing components and parts that I am forced to do without," he explained.

Although the Proton Waja and Satria GTi are not popular in Kuwait, BTC has managed to maintain Proton's overall eight per cent share despite the steady growth of the market - against the 34% held by the Number One brand Toyota.

It hardly seems like a coincidence that BTC is also the distributor of Toyota vehicles - and the largest auto distributor in the tiny oil-rich emirate.

Shaw nevertheless refuted suggestions that BTC banks on its vast resources to get a lower distributor's price from Proton by buying in bulk of hundreds of units, unlike the Proton distributors in Qatar and UAE who can't afford to do so.

"As far I know, we are paying the same price as the other distributors in the region. We are not getting preferential treatment," he said.

"Of course, pricing could always be lower. But so far, we are comfortable," he added.

Apparently, complaints about pricing should be directed at the Pricing Committee at Proton headquarters, not the International Business Development Division (IBD), which Proton distributors outside Malaysia deal with.

"So really, it's the Price Committee people who should come and study the market on the ground," Shaw said.

He declined to comment on the complaints of poor support and unprofessional lackadaisical attitudes at the IBD, except to say "If you are patient, you eventually get what you need".

Communication is key, he said.

"I have always believed in the importance of good communication and rapport. I have visited Shah Alam to meet the people there five times this year.

"You have to understand that you are dealing with various different nationalities ... everybody is bound to have their own way of doing things. You just have to adapt."
Related article: Special Report on Proton Distributors