Malaysiakini Letter

No such thing as national car

YS Chan  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Speaking at the budget agenda session of the Youth Economic Forum 2018 at the Securities Commission in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, shadow finance minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the latest car project should not be called a “national car” if not funded by the government but by private investments.

From 1990 to 2000, I was a lecturer and examiner of tourist guide training courses, and often had to explain that foreigners could be perplexed upon hearing national car although Malaysians may be accustomed.

During practical exams on board a tour bus, without fail one of the trainees would point to a Proton and called it a national car.

If not corrected and told to a busload of tourists, foreigners familiar with National and Panasonic would be wondering when did this well-known electrical and electronic appliance manufacturer started making cars.

If cars made in Germany are called German cars, and those in Japan Japanese cars, then those made in Malaysia ought to be Malaysian cars, not national car. It was coined to give Proton “national car” status to enjoy lower taxes and became popular because of lower pricing, not higher quality.

In fact, all the Protons from inception in 1985 to 2000 were re-badged Mitsubishi models including the engines. They were not much different from other locally assembled models, except Protons had more local components and body parts stamped locally. The Proton Waja, which was launched in 2000, was the first model designed in-house by Proton but based on the platform of a Mitsubishi model that had been in the Japanese market since 1995.

Similarly, the second-generation Proton Perdana, which appeared in 2013, was a re-badged eighth-generation Honda Accord and mainly for government agencies. It then had a body makeover and was opened for sale to the public in 2016 but they are seldom sighted.

On the other hand, Vietnam's first automobile manufacturer VinFast leveraged on Italian design along with German and Austrian engineering and manufacturing expertise for its first two production vehicles.

In one fell swoop, it had overtaken not only Proton with 30 years head-start, but also many other automobile brands. VinFast’s midsized sedan and SUV are based on BMW technology and thus have similar proportions to the 5 series and X5, respectively.

Powering both is a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbo engine licensed by BMW and adapted to VinFast’s needs by Austrian engine specialist AVL. Germany’s ZF Friedrichshafen is supplying an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Mercifully, current production is limited to left-hand drive models, and won’t be reaching our shores soon and compete with the likes of Proton X70 and other models.

Except for our national flag, anthem and other national prides, all commercial ventures should not be called “national”, be it airline or car, as such labelling no longer evokes customer loyalty.

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

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