Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has vented his frustrations over the lack of interest in his idea of setting up a second national car brand.
He said he had been told that people had enough of Proton – supposedly deemed a failure – and are unwilling to see another national car brand being set up.
“We are (supposedly) unqualified and unable to dabble in the automotive industry. Malaysians would rather buy imported cars including those from China. Their choice is Japanese cars, or German cars if they have lots of money...
“Malaysia would become a nation of consumers, of paddy farmers, and of fishermen. No matter, this is what we want and what we will get.
“Just forget about Vision 2020,” he wrote in his blog today.
Proton, which began operations as Malaysia’s first national car in 1984, was Mahathir’s brainchild. He had also enacted protectionist policies that drove up the prices of imported cars.
However, 49.9 percent of the company’s stake had been sold to the Chinese auto-manufacturer Zhejiang Geely Holding Group last year, while DRB-Hicom, which is owned by the tycoon Syed Mokhtar Albukhary, holds the remaining 50.1 percent.
Since then, Mahathir had mooted the idea of setting up a new national car on several occasions. During his visit to Japan last month, he said he hoped that Asean countries and other partners could chip in on the project.
However, the plan was met with scepticism by various observers.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said on June 15 that he had informed Mahathir that the government could not spare the funds necessary to launch a new national car. Instead, it would have to be financed by the private sector.
In his blog post today, Mahathir said he is not suggesting that the government undertakes the project, because Malaysia’s private sector is already capable of performing various aspects of the task including design, making clay models and testing models, and mass producing the cars.
“But we are already rejecting the idea of a second national car early on, and thereby, stopping any suggestion of having the private sector produce cars.
“Surely, the government will not have a public-owned automotive industry,” he said.
Mahathir recalled that postwar Japanese cars had been ridiculed for their low quality, that consumers joked that its paint could be scratched off with fingernails to reveal that it had been made of Milo tins.
However, he noted that these “Milo tin” cars and their Korean counterparts evolved to be giants in the automotive industry, whereas European brands such as Austin and Morris disappeared from the market.
He said this is because Japan and South Korea prohibited imports of foreign cars and the quality of locally manufactured cars improved as a result, until they could be exported in the millions.
The influx of foreign money had allowed Japanese and Korean workers to gain employment and earn large salaries, as well as helping to grow other local industries.
On the other hand, he said Malaysia had opted to allow foreign cars to compete with the national car.
“But surely this will not happen with Malaysia. Our cars will continue to be made with Milo tins forever….
“No matter the type of car, its country of origin, whether it is of good quality of the ‘Milo tin’ variety; can all be brought into Malaysia. These are produced by giants and filled the Malaysian car market until Proton is buried.
“In the end, Proton is sold to foreigners. There is no more national car, no more automotive industry. Workers, engineers, managers have lost their jobs. Everything deteriorates."