The concept of a National Car was conceived in 1979 by then
Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, now
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, with the goal of enhancing
 The National Car Project was approved by the Cabinet in 1982, leading to the founding of PROTON on 7 May 1983. It was wholly owned by the
government of Malaysia through
Khazanah Nasional at its creation. It was headed by its founder, Dr. Mahathir.
Mitsubishi Motors between 1983 and 1984 and brokered a joint venture between both companies for the production of the first Malaysian car. The result of the collaboration was the
Proton Saga, which launched on 9 July 1985.
 It was based on the second generation 1983
Mitsubishi Lancer Fiore 4-door
saloon and powered by a 1.3-litre
Mitsubishi Orion 4G13 engine. The first Proton Saga to roll off the production line in
Shah Alam is preserved in the
Muzium Negara as a symbol of the beginning of the Malaysian automotive industry. Sales of the new Saga outstripped supply and PROTON struggled to meet the growing demand, but by mid-1986 it had captured a 64% majority domestic market share in the Below 1600cc segment.
 Later in October 1987, a
hatchback variant called the Proton Saga Aeroback was launched and featured a more powerful 1.5L Mitsubishi 4G15 engine and a redesigned rear-end. PROTON entered the United Kingdom in March 1989 with the Saga saloon and hatchback duo, where the Malaysian company set the record for the "Fastest Selling Make of New Car Ever to Enter the United Kingdom".
 PROTON's sales declined during the late 1980s as a result of the worldwide economic recession, and the lack of technical expertise in PROTON's management.
 Kenji Iwabuchi, a former Mitsubishi Motors executive, was appointed as the managing director of PROTON in 1988.
 In the decade that followed, there were significant developments both domestically and globally.
Proton Saga Iswara
saloon, widely used as Malaysian taxis in the 1990s and early 2000s.
saloon. Over 952,216 units were sold in around 65 countries worldwide.
On 15 August 1992, the
Proton Saga Iswara was launched. It shares the older Mitsubishi platform used in the original
Proton Saga, but its exterior and interior styling are unique to PROTON. The Saga Iswara was widely used as taxicabs in Malaysia during the 1990s and 2000s, and many continue in service. On 21 May 1993 the
Proton Wira was introduced, a car which was better equipped and larger than the Saga and Saga Iswara. The Wira is based on the fourth-generation 1991
Mitsubishi Lancer and was sold in a four-door
saloon guise at launch. The Proton Wira Aeroback, a five-door hatchback variant featuring a PROTON-designed rear-end joined the range in 1994. The Wira saloon and hatchback shared six different engines by 1996, all of which were sourced from Mitsubishi Motors. The engines included the
4G13 1.3L and
4G15 1.5L carried over from the Proton Saga, the newer
DOHC 1.8L and the
diesel. The Wira was the first PROTON car to be produced in
right-hand drive (RHD) and left-hand drive (LHD) configurations, and remains the only PROTON car made available with a diesel engine.
In 1995, PROTON launched the three-door
Proton Satria hatchback and the two-door
coupé in 1997, both of which are based on the Wira platform and powered by the same range of Mitsubishi engines offered in the Wira, with the exception of the 2.0L diesel. The Proton Wira saloon and hatchback, and the Proton Satria and Putra were aggressively exported and marketed across the
European Union and Middle East during the 1990s. The
Proton Perdana, a premium D-segment saloon, was launched in 1995. It is based on the seventh generation 1992
Mitsubishi Eterna and was fitted with Mitsubishi's
l4 engine. It was offered with the superior 177bhp
V6 engine after 1999. The Perdana remains the only D-segment, V6-powered car to be commercially produced by PROTON. A
Citroën AX-based 1.1-litre five-door
supermini called the
Proton Tiara debuted in 1996. It was the result of a joint venture between PROTON and
PSA Peugeot Citroën, a collaboration which was later abandoned after the death of PROTON's then CEO, Tan
Yahaya Ahmad in 1997.
On 30 October 1996, PROTON acquired an 80% stake in the British company,
Lotus Group International Limited, valued at £51 million.
 The controlling interest was purchased from A.C.B.N. Holdings S.A. of Luxembourg, a company controlled by Italian businessman
Romano Artioli, then also the owner of
Bugatti. PROTON's stake in Lotus was increased to 100% in 2003.
 Lotus has been involved in the development of suspension and handling elements of all PROTON cars launched since 1996. The
Proton Satria GTi, widely regarded as the best Malaysian car ever produced, owes much of its success to Lotus' contributions.
, the first indigenously designed Proton car.
Proton Waja, the company's first indigenously designed model, was launched in August 2000.It has the Mitsubishi 4G18 engine/Campro 1.6/Campro CPS 1.6 engines It set in stone PROTON's new direction in business and marked the end of PROTON's extensive reliance on other car manufacturers for vehicle platforms and parts. However, the Waja lagged behind its main competitors and failed to gain the support of customers in the domestic market. The Waja also marked the downfall of the PROTON marque, and inadvertently lead to the rise of
Perodua, the second Malaysian vehicle manufacturer. In 2002, PROTON introduced the
ute based on the
Proton Wira platform and thus far the only PROTON model to enjoy significantly more popularity in its export markets (specifically Australia) than domestically. The
Proton Gen-2 was launched in late 2004. It was the first PROTON car equipped with the Malaysian-made
The advanced RM1.8 billion (USD$580 million) PROTON
Tanjung Malim manufacturing plant in the Malaysian state of
Perak commenced operation in November 2003.
 The new plant had been projected to open in August 1998, but it was deferred due to the
1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
 However, it was revived in 2001 and completed in late 2003 instead.
 The new 1,280 acre plant was also developed as part of the
Proton City project, which would span 4,000 acres of land in
Tanjung Malim and consist of residential, commercial, institutional, industrial and recreational areas.
 The plant has an annual production capacity of 150,000 vehicles, but could be expanded to 1 million units in the future. The PROTON Tanjung Malim plant complements the original PROTON plant in operation since 1985, located in
 Despite a combined production capacity of around 350,000 units, both plants are underutilised with just 52,235 and 114,645 units produced at the Tanjung Malim and Shah Alam plants in 2011 respectively.
On 7 July 2004, PROTON purchased a 57.57% stake in
MV Agusta S.p.A of Italy, valued at €70 million. PROTON failed to reverse the misfortunes of MV Agusta and sold the marque to Gevi S.p.A in December 2005 for €1, with Gevi assuming the €139.44 million debt carried over from MV Agusta.
The latter half of the 2000s marked PROTON's comeback in the domestic market, which was then dominated by newer and better
Toyota-based models from
Perodua. On 15 August 2007, PROTON launched the
Persona saloon, the long overdue replacement for the best-selling Proton Wira saloon. The Persona was based on an extended version of the 2004
Proton Gen-2 hatchback platform and shared most of its external appearance, albeit priced around RM10,000 less with large overall improvements in terms of ergonomics and functionality.
 Despite the similarities with the Gen-2, the Persona was an instant hit in Malaysia, with 19,840 units sold in the first three months following its launch.
 The much anticipated
second generation Proton Saga was launched on 18 January 2008.
 Previously, the
first generation Proton Saga was PROTON's first and most successful model, having a 23-year-long lifespan, the longest of all PROTON models to date. The new Saga maintained its legacy, and turned out to be a great sales success for PROTON with over 23,000 bookings in under two weeks since launch.
 It is consistently ranked as PROTON's best-selling product in terms of annual sales volume, placing 3rd in 2008, and 2nd between 2009 and 2012 in the Malaysian market, beaten only by its archrival, the
 PROTON made history again when it introduced the
Exora, Malaysia's first 7-seater
MPV on 15 April 2009.
 It was based on PROTON's next generation P2 platform and satisfied the demand for budget 7-seaters in the domestic market, which had been monopolised by the
Toyota Avanza and
Nissan Grand Livina. It has since been consistently positioned in the Top 10 best-selling vehicles in Malaysia.
 The Proton Exora, Persona and
Saga marked the rise of a new PROTON after almost a decade of declining sales and loss in its domestic market.
In December 2008, PROTON resumed product collaboration with Mitsubishi Motors.
 Under the agreement, PROTON gained the rights to
rebadge the 2007
Mitsubishi Lancer to be sold exclusively in the Malaysian market. The result of the collaboration was the
Proton Inspira, which launched on 10 November 2010. It also marked a return to closer ties between PROTON and Mitsubishi, the Japanese company which was instrumental in PROTON's foundation in the 1980s.
 PROTON showcased the
hybrid city cars at the 2010
Geneva Motor Show.
 They were designed by
Italdesign Giugiaro and related to the
Lotus Ethos, a similar concept car from PROTON's British subsidiary.
inline-four petrol engine from PROTON was revealed at the 2010
Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show.
 Officially known as the 1.6L
CamPro CFE, it is capable of producing power and torque figures of 138 bhp (103 kW) at 5,000 rpm and 205 N·m at 2,000–4,000 rpm respectively, comparable to a 2.0L
naturally aspirated engine, while achieving better
fuel efficiency and reduced
In January 2012, PROTON was acquired by
DRB-HICOM, a Malaysian conglomerate in a transaction between
Khazanah Nasional and DRB-HICOM which totalled
Proton Prevé, the company's latest
saloon car was unveiled on 16 April 2012.
 It became the first PROTON car, and to an extent, the first Malaysian car to be awarded the full 5-star safety rating in the
Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) of Australia and New Zealand.
 In December 2012, PROTON acquired all of
E01 engine technologies in addition to associated technology patents at a cost of RM63 million.
 The deal encompassed a family of
naturally aspirated and
turbocharged 1.8, 2.0 and 2.2-litre engines to complement PROTON's own
CamPro 1.3L N/A, 1.6L N/A and 1.6L turbo engines.
On 17 August 2013, PROTON launched the
Suprima S, the hatchback complement to the Prevé saloon.
 It became the second 5-star ANCAP rated PROTON and the first to offer extensive standard safety features in its domestic market. On 11 December 2013, the
second generation Proton Perdana was finally unveiled after a three-year gap in the nameplate's production.
 The new Perdana is a
eighth generation Honda Accord and is for exclusive sale to Malaysian civil servants and government officials.
Proton Iriz was unveiled on 25 September 2014 as the company's first
B-segment 5-door hatchback.
 The new Iriz competes directly against the
Perodua Myvi in its domestic market.
On 18 January 2016, PROTON unveiled their all-new four-cylinder GDI/TGDI and three-cylinder VVT engines.
 The new engines, of which there are six in total, are being developed in collaboration with
Lotus Engineering, and are slated to enter production by late 2017.
PROTON unveiled their new logo in February 2016, and appointed a new CEO and Deputy CEO in April.
 The government had also granted PROTON a RM1.5 billion soft loan in mid 2016.
 The loan came with a number of conditions, including a mandatory tie-up with a foreign automobile company in the near future. Several companies have expressed interest, including
 This culminated with the entry of China's ZZhejiang Geely Holding Group in June 2017, after the Chinese carmaker acquired 49.9% equity in PROTON from DRB-HICOM (see two paras below).
PROTON introduced four new models in 2016. The new
Perdana launched on 14 June,
 followed by the new
Persona on 23 August,
 the new
Saga on 28 September,
 and the new
Ertiga on 24 November.
 The launch of four new PROTON models within the span of six months was unprecedented in the company's history. Masazumi Ogawa was recruited as the director of quality control in PROTON.
On 24 May 2017, parent company
DRB-HICOM announced plans to sell a 49.9% stake in PROTON to
Zhejiang Geely Automobile Holdings.
 Eventually, DRB-HICOM also sold 51% controlling-stake in
Lotus to Geely, and the remaining 49% stake to Etika Automotive.
 The definitive agreement was in July 2017. PROTON had owned Lotus since 1996, and largely struggled to turn the fortunes of the sports car maker around. Nonetheless, in late 2016, Lotus announced their first operating profit in over 40 years.
 Their presence in PROTON is said to not affect Japanese auto manufacturers due to being in the market for a very long time.
 Still, many of PROTON's cars benefitted from the Lotus relationship, with the Satria GTi specifically mentioned by car reviewers as possessing good handling traits. Subsequent PROTON models all received "Lotus Tuned" input.
PROTON recruited Yoshiya Inamori as the vice president of manufacturing, who had previously been involved with PROTONback in the 80s when it was founded during his time in Mitsubishi from April 1982 until July 2017.
 On 29 September 2017, Li Chunrong was appointed as the CEO to replace Datuk Ahmad Fuaad Kenali with Winfried Vahland on the board after leaving his chairman/CEO post at Skoda.