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(File pix) TheWira wagon was a missed opportunity, says the author. Artist impression picture

In the years before the three-letter cars like MPV, SUV, XAV and such, life was much simpler; cars came in two-doors, four-door or wagon forms, and we decided on which variant we want based on how many kids, pets, in-laws and school practice we have to accommodate during the life of the car.

For most people, the four-door sedan is the sensible choice because they have average 2.3 children and needed no more space in their car than what the boot was offering.

There are those who fancy themselves as handymen and are always thinking about the outdoors and like to go camping every now and then. For them, there is the wagon, which offers room for tents and assorted outdoor gear as well as space for do-it-yourself stuff from the hardware shop.

The two-door coupe is for those who are young at heart and need something for a mid-life crisis, a car they can share with their teenage son but wouldn’t. It’s perfect for a 40-something who is losing his hair and needs to alienate his teenage sons.

Of the three body styles, the wagon is the most practical, offering a wide variety of use within the same, or very similar wheelbase and external dimensions.

The wagon was also popular with tradesmen, small businesses and travelling salesmen who could use the additional carrying capacity to do their bit for the national gross domestic product.

We see a lot of these wagons being used by electricians, plumbers, bakers, florists, carpenters, caterers and sundry shops as the primary mode of transportation for men and tools of trade.

The wagon could also be offered as panel vans, with blanked out rear windows and high roof that make them perfect as compact delivery vehicles. In fact, in the 1950s and 1960s, wagons sold as panel vans made up quite a lot of the small commercial vehicle market and in Europe, there is still a number of wagons offered as panel vans.

When Proton started its second-generation model, the Wira, it had some years of experience under its belt and was beginning to explore different variants that could be offered to the public. Apart from the four-door sedan, it offered the five door hatchback called the Wira Aeroback and the three-door hatch called the Satria.

Along the way they also came up with a compact pick-up truck called the Arena and somewhere among the spyshots were a photograph of a Proton Wira Wagon prototype.

Mitsubishi did offer the Lancer in wagon form but we know that this is the Malaysian Wira version from the much larger taillamps.

All that is left today are just photographs of that prototype as we do not know where the car is.

The Wira wagon was a missed opportunity because it could have provided Proton with a unique product for small businesses that needed affordable delivery vehicles that are simple to run and operate like a regular car.

After all these years, our local automotive manufacturers have not produced one strong commercial vehicle product line-up.

Commercial vehicles have the benefit of really long life. If we look at some of the one-tonne trucks that are in the market, they rely on designs that are at least a decade old while some are stretching their life into the second decade.

The same story applies for smaller half-tonne commercial vehicles where most of them are well past their first decade of life or are simply facelifts of models that were first born when the Y2K bug was a future worry.

In fact, if we look at the Proton Arena today, most of them are in pretty battered up shape as they are used heavily every day by their owners to transport anything and everything. What is more important is that the price has held up.

You are lucky if you can find an Arena for less than RM15,000 these days; in fact, if the car is not dented everywhere and has not been used for delivering fish or tractor parts in the last 10 years, then you are looking at a price tag of no less than RM20,000.

If you are a small business owner, this is likely the most affordable small delivery vehicle or workhorse that you can buy, offering a combination of pick-up bed and cheap spare parts.

Sadly, Proton gave up on the Arena too early and held on to the Wira for far too long, when it should have done the opposite by replacing the Wira sooner and continuing to offer the Arena with continuous facelift to this day.

If it had proceeded with the Wira wagon and adapted it into a panel van and high-roof panel van, then the same model could have continued to this day.

Mitsubishi produces a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine that works very well as a utility engine and this would have made it one of the best options for sole proprietorships and mum-and-pop businesses.

A Wira panel van may not be the most up-to-date thing one can own but it remains relevant to the business owners if brand-new versions are offered below RM50,000. Such a product is perfect for the new economy where small operations selling on the Internet needs something cheap to buy and operate for urban deliveries.

Right now there is nothing on offer in the market and delivery vans do not need to have the latest styling or the coolest designs, they just have to come at the right price and be cheap to run.

Well, I hope Perodua can come up with an Alza panel van with high roof and offer that vehicle at a price below RM50,000 for that would be a winner and the model could live on as a panel van for another five to 10 years.

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