The first sketches of a Proton MPV existed as early as the 1990s. During this period, all of Proton’s offerings were either saloon or hatchback vehicles. In 2001, Proton experimented with larger vehicles by introducing the Juara Mini-MPV, a rebadged Mitsubishi Town Box Wide. However, its unconventional kei car design drew criticism and it was discontinued in 2003 amidst poor sales.
The Proton MPV project was later revived in mid-2006 under the leadership of the former Proton Managing Director, Syed Zainal Abidin. The car was to be designed to suit Malaysian tastes and expectations, and was initially believed to be based on a Mitsubishi or Volkswagen platform, but Proton later confirmed that it would be built from the ground up on an all-new platform. The result was the Proton P2 platform, developed in-house by Proton with consultancy from LG CNS. On 11 February 2008, the Proton MPV was officially announced for an early 2009 launch.
Sketches of the MPV were aired on Malaysian national television on 27 May 2008, previewing its various upcoming features. From the sketches, it was initially speculated that the Proton MPV was related to a similar MPV from China’s Chery, but it was later proven that there were no such relations between the two cars. Nonetheless, it was clear that various styling cues were derived from the Mitsubishi Grandis, owing to the long standing relationship between Proton and Mitsubishi. Proton filed a patent for the upcoming MPV with the U.K. Intellectual Property Office (IPO) on 24 October 2008, and it was approved several days later 4 November.
Spyshots of the finalized Proton MPV were leaked onto the internet on 23 January 2009, 3 months ahead of its official launch.
The official name Proton Exora, along with its tagline Keriangan Keluarga (English: Family Fun) was announced on 17 February 2009. ‘Exora’, which was inspired from the Ixora flower was chosen among 251,763 entries during the Name The Proton MPV competition by the grand prize winner, Norsholihan Binti Abdul Eanich. After a development phase of 18 months, production of the Exora finally commenced in March 2009 at Proton’s Shah Alam plant.