Malaysian national car company Proton will spend a record RM1.6 billion ($525.8 million) on technology and product development in its financial year ending March 31, 2012.

“For the first time in Proton's history, we are investing for the future,” Proton Managing Director Zainal Tahir says. “This is good.”

Higher research and development expenditures incurred during the latest quarter effectively have been offset by R&D grants provided under the government’s hybrid and electric-vehicle program, he says in a statement.

The development of a new age of vehicles, Zainal adds, is one of the strategies being pursued to make Proton a globally competitive car manufacturer.

The auto maker is in the final stages of testing and validating vehicles powered by alternative-fuel propulsion systems, he adds, with the first commercially available Malaysian-made model to be sold as early as 2012.

“As the automotive industry places greater importance on the prospects of green technology, among the many challenges we are faced with is identifying the right technologies and solutions that will be capable of addressing sustainable mobility for the future,” the Proton executive says.

“There has been a conscious and significant shift towards greener motoring globally, particularly in advanced countries, largely due to the values, benefits and advantages such technologies offer. This is a potentially new and growing market that Proton can capitalize on.”

The auto maker has earmarked the RM1.6 billion ($53 million) for subsidiary Lotus, as well as its own new technologies and product development, Zainal told a media briefing, The Star newspaper reports.

Proton will deliver 20 hybrid and electric cars to the government in June, under an initiative that saw it receive a RM240 million ($78.9 million) government grant that was matched by the company.

Zainal says the green vehicles likely will be ready for commercialization in 2012.