Malaysia PM floats idea for new na­tional car project

The Phnom Penh Post - - MARKBEUTSSINESS -

MALAYSIA’Snew­ly­elect­edPrime Min­is­ter Ma­hathir Mo­hamad on Mon­day floated the possibility of a na­tional car project, de­spite the prob­lems of a sim­i­lar en­deav­our started dur­ing his pre­vi­ous term decades ago.

“We need to go back to the idea of a na­tional car,” he told a Tokyo press con­fer­ence on his first for­eign trip since his shock elec­tion last month.

“Our am­bi­tion is to start an­other na­tional car, per­haps with help from our part­ners in South­east Asia . . . We want to ac­cess the world mar­ket,” he said ear­lier, at a fo­rum in Tokyo.

The na­tional car has a trou­bled his­tory in Malaysia, which from 1983 pro­duced the Pro­ton as part of then-premier Ma­hathir’s am­bi­tious na­tional in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion plan.

The brand had a rep­u­ta­tion for unimag­i­na­tive mod­els and shoddy qual­ity and saw its pop­u­lar­ity wane over the years in the face of stiff com­pe­ti­tion from for­eign mod­els.

It 2017 its par­ent com­pany, Malaysian con­glom­er­ate DRBHICOM sold a 49.9 per­cent stake to Chi­nese auto gi­ant Geely, which is seek­ing to turn Pro­ton around.

Ma­hathir ap­peared to brush aside that his­tory on Mon­day, say­ing Malaysia would “seek sup­port and ex­per­tise from other coun­tries” in look­ing once again to pro­duce its own cars.

He said Malaysia had “most of the skills and tech­nolo­gies in re­gard to the de­sign and pro­duc­tion of a new car” thanks to two decades of co­op­er­a­tion with Ja­pan’s Mit­subishi Motors.

“How­ever there are cer­tain parts of a car which are ex­tremely ex­pen­sive to de­velop. We will want to source some of those ex­pen­sive parts from other coun­tries, in­clud­ing of course from Ja­pan.”

‘Not a good idea’

The Malaysian govern­ment cut its links with Pro­ton in 2012, when the coun­try’s sovereign wealth fund sold its stake to DRB-HICOM, but the com­pany has con­tin­ued to strug­gle.

The prospect of Malaysia tak­ing an­other tilt at launch­ing a new na­tional car was met with scep­ti­cism by an­a­lysts.

“Given the cur­rent global in­dus­try land­scape . . . it’s not a good idea,” Yeah Kim Leng, a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at Malaysia’s Sun­way Univer­sity Busi­ness School, said.

“It’s a highly glob­alised mar­ket now, and un­less you have a deep mar­ket [ac­cess], the tech­nol­ogy and prod­uct ca­pa­bil­ity, it would be dif­fi­cult to com­pete.”

Twit­ter user Emir Izat said Pro­ton’s short­com­ings should “be a les­son” for Ma­hathir, adding: “Hope­fully this na­tional car project gets scrapped.”

While there are still many Pro­tons on the roads in Malaysia, their num­bers have fallen dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years, with Euro­pean and Ja­panese mod­els rapidly over­tak­ing them.

An­other Malaysian car­maker Pero­dua, which pro­duces com­pact ve­hi­cles, has also strug­gled due to the grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

Ma­hathir was chair­man of Pro­ton un­til 2016, and his con­tin­ued in­volve­ment in the firm drew crit­i­cism from then-Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak, who was de­feated in last month’s elec­tion. In 2016 the govern­ment ap­proved a bailout pack­age worth $384 mil­lion for the strug­gling com­pany but warned it would not con­tinue to throw money at the firm.

TENGKU BA­HAR/AFP

Ma­hathir Mo­hamad gives a thumbs-up dur­ing the Pro­ton Savvy’s launch on June 8, 2005.

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