“Ehh… tengok tu! Proton Saga lah!”
“Ha! Mana? Mana?”
“Hahaha! Mana ada! Tipu aje! Satu kosong!”
That was the common prank that was pulled in school way back in the mid-1980s. Someone would pretend as if a Proton Saga had driven past and everyone else would be tricked into turning around to catch a glimpse of the then rather rare car.
I was probably around seven or eight years old and was in lower primary school when the Proton Saga was launched. It was a big deal. There were jingles on the radio and video clips on television.
The teachers in school would talk about it in class and show us newspaper articles. The car even ended up in our school history textbook and it was a proud moment for Malaysia and Malaysians indeed. I knew my friends and I were filled with pride.
My parents bought the car when it first came out. It was a silver Proton Saga and what I remember most about it was that it had a very sophisticated and technologically advanced digital clock with bright green lights on the dashboard.
I can’t remember if that car was any good. I was too young to understand how a car works, and like I said, the clock was what impressed me the most. But my parents used that car for quite a while, so I guess the first-generation Proton wasn’t so bad.
Later on, when I graduated from university and started working, the first car I bought was a Proton Satria. I have to admit that I didn’t buy the car because I liked it. I bought it because it was affordable based on my starting salary as a fresh graduate.
And, as everyone in Malaysia is most probably aware of, that is how the local car industry has been positioned to succeed. Basically, the government makes sure that foreign cars are more expensive than local cars by imposing high import duties.
The Proton Satria that I had didn’t last very long. The interior of the car started to go first with the interior plastic trim peeling and breaking off. Then, the power windows went. Finally, the radiator stopped working and that’s when I had to get rid of the car.
We hear stories all the time from people who have owned Proton cars. But of course, these are anecdotal evidence and we can’t really conclude that Proton makes bad cars. But we can say that this is the most common general perception of the public...