Malaysiakini Yoursay

Yoursay: Proton 2.0 – is it to save Mahathir or save Malaysia?

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YOURSAY | ‘Indeed, why aren't those in government speaking up?’

Why any version of Proton 2.0 will fail

David Dass: What is Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's obsession with the Malaysian car? Mahathir is often given to rather simplistic solutions to complex problems - in this case, lofty aspirations.

In the initial years, he was troubled by the fact that we had no control over the prices of rubber and tin. Solution? Get control. Result colossal loss of money.

He saw that industrial nations were into heavy industries like steel manufacturing. So we went into Perwaja. Again, huge losses.

Then it was the Multimedia Super Corridor. A brilliant idea ahead of its time. It pushed us forward but at some point, it spluttered and lost its way. Other nations moved ahead.

All major industrial nations were into motor manufacturing. There were spinoff benefits. It would transform an agricultural nation into an industrial nation. And everyone wants to own a car.

But many challenged his assumptions. We were too small a nation. We did not have the depth of engineering expertise. We were too late in the game. It was now a battle between the giants. He would not listen.

There was a cost to transforming a nation and its people. In the time that we were supporting Proton, Australia closed down motor manufacturing. Sweden sold Volvo to the Chinese. The Belgians sold Saab. Britain sold Rover to the Chinese. And Jaguar and Range Rover to the Indians.

And India and China became major carmakers. South Korea and Japan are still major players. America companies are still active but heavily supported by the government. And France, Italy and Germany are still in the game with German companies dominating.

Mahathir also tried to get into aircraft and motorcycle manufacturing but those did not quite take off. Why does Mahathir believe that we are in a position to launch another Malaysian car? Especially after the cost and experience of Proton?

What benefits did we get from Proton? What lessons have we learnt from Proton? Why did Proton fail? Or did Proton fail?

Quigonbond: I don't think Pakatan Harapan is interested to go back to protectionism, exclusive approved permits (AP) distribution, etc - but by all means, keep up the pressure because the rationale is not clear yet.

If it is electric car or even self-driving car, the technology is so cutting edge for the latter, there is no reason why anyone would want to share with us if we are just effectively contract assemblers.

Also, between Google, Tesla and likes of Toyota, Toyota is far behind in self-driving technology. If it is electric car, again, what value it is to us? Other than the car framework, the technology lies in the battery.

It’s unlikely Japan will share that technology with us and more likely we are just helping them to assemble the battery into the car.

Harapan better make a strong justification for this beyond helping "reviving" our automotive sector because it smells like rescuing component makers. If they are not up to mark, why rescue them?

Ravinder: I fully agree with Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegaram. The ministers were appointed by Mahathir and it comes down to "hutang budi" (being ingratiated to the PM) which demands that they do not oppose him for fear of being replaced.

This is how one man can get his way. I was surprised that even economist Jomo KS now says that Proton 2.0 will be economically good for the country.

Mahathir obviously can't take defeat (that is what Proton's failure is) and is willing to gamble on Proton 2.0 despite the very salient negative aspects of the project as pointed out by Gunasegaram.

Then comes pride, which in turn fires the ego and blinds one to reality. After all, it is public money. What difference from the failed projects of the BN government which was replaced for a better Malaysia?

When there is so much else to do to undo the damage caused by the BN government, why delve into this project almost immediately upon taking office? Could the cabinet members who opposed this project, if any, please stand up and show yourselves.

Anonymous_d395a08d: It's difficult to replicate South Korea industrial success in Malaysia. In fact, it's also doubtful whether South Korean past success formula could have been replicated in South Korean today.

One has to understand that South Korean was a military dictatorship until the 80s. The South Korean government then handpicked favourite chaebols to enter into businesses deemed strategic to the country.

The chaebols were protected from competition and backed up by the country resources. No one dared to question the concentration of wealth in the hands of these selected families. But note the condition favourable to chaebol past success is no longer present in South Korean today.

Democracy, press freedom and outcry against corruption culminated in the jailing of Samsung heir Lee Jay Yong and sentencing and suicides of several past presidents. Heavy-handed state support for selective private businesses is unimaginable now.

Besides, South Korean past protectionist practices, which shielded its car industry during their infancy stage, would no longer be tolerated by the West, especially US. No doubt Samsung and the like are still doing very well, but new success today comes from creative industry as typified by K-pop.

What's the chance of Malaysia as compared to South Korea? Malaysia past recipe of protectionism, favouritism and state-directed auto industry, while sharing many similarities with South Korean, was an utter failure.

Work culture is a problem. The other is while Korean chaebols are patient enough to play the long game, Malaysia cronies have rent-seeking mentality and just want to make easy money. Culture can never be changed by decree.

But without such culture change, there is no hope for Malaysia to emulate South Korean past industrial success. We should know our limitation before blindly imitating countries like South Korean and Japan again.

Anonymous_d395a08d: The competition in future car industry is not only against giants today like Toyota, or EV (electric vehicle) producers such as Tesla and BYD, but also IT giants.

The car industry is becoming data and algorithm intensive. Tesla collects and monitors their customer car performance and constantly upgrade their cars remotely. Through its ownership in Waywo, Google wants to build the Android platform for cars. Even Apple is said to consider entering the car business.

The IT industry has a different culture. Software also requires real-time tweaking. It will not be as simple as getting a foreign engine model transferred every two years.

So to our electric vehicle loving yes-men like Rais Husin, Ong Kian Ming and Akhramsyah Sanusi, how should Malaysia build this IT capability to respond to the paradigm shift?

Retnam: The other argument for Proton's failure was that there is no technology. South Korea did not have the technology initially. They built it up.

Proton could not do it. Why? Obviously, it has to do with the quality of the people running the industry.

Yeoh Chee Weng: I agree with Gunasegaram’s view and arguments against a national car. Proton was a colossal failure at the expense of Malaysian citizens who were deprived of better and cheaper cars because of forced tariff.

Those of us who are not sycophants must act courageously and oppose those who seem to support every wish of the PM's ego, including gutless MPs and ministers. I hope that PKR will get its house in order and give the opportunity to Anwar Ibrahim to take over the premiership soon.

Mahathir should only be the PM for two years. He has too much of Umno DNA and is too stubborn and proud to admit his faults and shortcomings. Don’t forget, it was during his first premiership that cronyism and institutionalised corruption became the norm of Umno culture.

His lopsided appointment of ministers to the cabinet clearly shows his bias towards ex-Umno members in his Bersatu party at the expense of more meritorious and deserving PKR and DAP MPs.

Enough of old diehards. Do you want an Umno 2.0 to lead Pakatan Harapan? We need new ideas and new blood to be able to create a nation that is based on meritocracy and finally be freed from 60 years of religious bigotry and racial prejudice.

Not Convinced: When Gunasegaram wrote about the patently unfair composition of Mahathir’s cabinet last month, he was shouted down by quite a number of Malaysiakini commenters. After all, Mahathir has the PM prerogative to appoint the best and brightest to sit in his cabinet.

So where are these best and brightest? Why are they completely silence on Mahathir’s ‘Perotiga’ idea?

Sukisan: Indeed, why aren't any in government speaking up? Only PKR leader Rafizi Ramli and Gunasegaram, both are outside of government. Are there no brave politicians in Harapan? Tell the emperor what the rakyat see – that he has no clothes.

Anonymous_22772beb: The oft-repeated phrase that governments have no business being in business is relevant here except to provide services to uplift the quality of living of the rakyat. That is the business of governing.

What will happen to the project once the old man has gone to meet his maker? Perhaps Harapan is just humouring the old man, giving him a nice albeit expensive send-off into the 'eternal'.

Existential Turd: The goodwill Mahathir earned for ousting Najib Razak is fast eroding by his protecting the likes of Zakir Naik and his infatuation with the national car project, which over the years have caused far greater losses to Malaysia than 1MDB, as Gunasegaram rightly points out.

He has served his purpose, I am afraid that by him staying longer, the respect he earned will be gone much more quickly than his first term.

The above is a selection of comments posted by Malaysiakini subscribers. Only paying subscribers can post comments. Over the past one year, Malaysiakinians have posted over 100,000 comments. Join the Malaysiakini community and help set the news agenda. Subscribe now.

These comments are compiled to reflect the views of Malaysiakini subscribers on matters of public interest. Malaysiakini does not intend to represent these views as fact.

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