Malaysiakini Letter

Rethink the car industry, please

TK Chua
Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | What has happened to all the Pakatan Harapan politicians who were so good in saying all the right things before the election but are now blind, deaf and dumb to all wrong things being proposed and done?

Why did no one of substance talk about the third national car project so far? Are we really going to toy with this “adventure” again with tariff and non-tariff restrictions as proposed?

Look, a whole generation of Malaysians have grown up and grown old using overpriced cars with hopeless quality. I don’t think another generation of Malaysians should undergo the same ordeal again.

I get it; the car industry is a conduit to engineering prowess and stardom, so the argument goes. But what did we get for ourselves the past few decades – a perpetually protected industry saddled with gross inefficiency which burdened the consumers to the hilt.

I believe some forms of protection may be necessary to support an “infant” industry? However, to be effective, such a protection must have an unequivocal timeframe for its removal. Otherwise, it is just another “rent seeking” and profiteering venture, nothing else.

Let’s not kid ourselves, when “protected industries” gain, the consumers lose, as simple as that.

The Koreans started the car industry at around the same time as Malaysia’s Proton. They protected their car market and so did we. After thirty years, I think we know the difference between Korea and us.

Now we are contemplating to protect our car market again! Well, protecting our market to build up the capacity to compete is very different from protecting our market to “skin” the consumers.

Proton made an enormous amount of money in its heydays through protectionism. But where were engineering prowess, R & D capability and the capacity to compete?

Korea did the same protectionism like us but with one exception. They know how to use the window of opportunity to build better cars to compete domestically and to penetrate the foreign markets. Look at the Korean car industry today and look at ours.

“Timeless” protection for any industry is a recipe for disaster; there is no record of a success story on this.

I think it is a little too late in the day for us to be fixated on the car industry. However, this does not mean we cannot excel in other fields.

Let’s not be over ambitious and gung-ho in our “can do” attitude. When the chief justice and judges have to clean toilets and when the law Minister must personally look at toilet cleaning contract, I think we still have a long way to go before attaining professionalism and engineering prowess.

I apologise if I hurt the feeling of Malaysians in general. I think we are still very much a “chinchai” country.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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