Dr Mahathir lashed out at Malaysians last week, when they rejected his idea for the Malaysian government to work on a new national car (aka Proton 2.0).
First up – what is the Proton car?
Proton also known as Peusahaan Otomobil Nasional Berhad, wasn’t – isn’t just a car. Not to Dr M. He was the one who created the Malaysian National Car Project (back in 1979 when he was Prime Minister). He became the only head of state to ever found and head a national automobile company in 1983. Dr M called the Proton Saga, the first model “more than just a quality automobile, it is a symbol of Malaysians as a dignified people”.
It marked Malaysia’s move into the heavy industries, back in the 1980s – and dominated domestic car sales up till the early 1990s. However, there the fairy tale ended. Proton was unable to improve its scale of production or expand its market size through economies of scale. With a lack of investment in R&D, quality fell over the years. It continued to crawl along – but with a lot of government intervention – through soft loans amounting up to 1.5billion, protectionism moves with quotas on engine sizes and high import duties on foreign cars. Meanwhile, Malaysia’s second national carmaker Perodua, and international cars such as Honda and Toyota became stronger in the Malaysian market.
Proton simply could not perform on its own. China carmaker Zhejiang Geely Holdings Group bought a 49.9 per cent of Proton for RM460.3 million (S$150 million) to try to keep it going, with the remaining 50.1 per cent stake in Proton held by DRB-Hicom. In May 2018, when Dr M was freshly crowed Prime Minister, he declared they would not buy Proton Holdings back as it was now privately owned.
Malaysia inside joke about their national car:
“The best proton is a 20 yo Proton, because all the parts would have been swapped out and refitted with after market parts”
So you can understand why the Malaysian public did not want to go along for the ride when Dr M announced last week at the 24th Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo on the Malaysian government’s plans to work on a new national car. He even brought up the idea in his state visit to Indonesia, suggesting that they work together on the project.
His comments sparked a fierce debate, with many pointing out that the government should focus on improving the public transport system instead.
Dr M was not pleased. In a blog post, he wrote:
“I am told no one wants to see a second national car. It is enough that Proton is said to be a failure.”
“Malaysians prefer to buy imported cars, including those from China. Their choice is Japanese cars and those with a lot of money (choose) German cars.
“I remember Japanese cars right after the war. The consumers said if we scratch it with our nail, we can see (it is made out of) Milo tin. However from that ‘Milo tin’ car comes a variety of the Toyota, Nissan and Suzuki models that we use now,”
“However, because we have rejected the suggestion of a (new) national car, we have already closed off all suggestions for the private sector to produce motor cars. 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; cars can all be brought into Malaysia. These are produced by giants and fills the Malaysian car market until Proton is buried.
“There is no more national car. No more automotive industry. The workers, engineers, managers don’t have jobs anymore. Malaysia would become a country of consumers, paddy field planters and fishermen. No matter, this is what we want and what we will get.”
“Forget about Vision 2020.”
Ouch. Oh Dr M, let’s get something straight.
No, Malaysia won’t be a country of consumers, paddy field planters and fishermen because they did not have Proton 2.0. This isn’t on them.
This is on you, if you fail to make good your election promises to make Malaysia great.
This is on you, if you don’t get your priorities right – and fail to turn Malaysia’s economy around, solve their debt problem and increase their wages, and if you fail to make to Malaysia a place where talent will want to stay and enable Malaysia to flourish.
This is on you, if you make Malaysia a country that does not make good on its word. A country that can renege agreements that are legally binding, to bully its way through, to try to shirk responsibility for project contracts that Malaysia itself proposed originally. Will countries around the world trust your government enough to work with you for anything?
Didn’t Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng ask Singaporeans to be ‘understanding’ and lobbied for Singapore to waive compensation due for cancelling the HSR? And yet, you are calling for a new national car, because you failed to learn past lessons from the government having to bail out the loss-making Proton?
Make no mistake, this isn’t because Malaysians are afraid to dream big. They see that their country is riddled with fundamental problems, and they simply want the government they voted for to get their priorities right from the get go.
I never thought a 93-year-old man could throw tantrums. But there we go. Quit trying to create distractions and blame Malaysians, because clearly, Malaysians aren’t fooled. And neither are Singaporeans.