If Proton Has The Quality Of Volkswagen Or Toyota, People Will Not Dump The National Cars

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Aug 25 2018
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Mahathir is throwing tantrums again. Like a spoiled little brat, he wants his toy come rain or shine. Until his wish to start a third national car is granted, the 93-year-old prime minister is going to criticise, even insult, the people for being short-sighted. And he has just mocked and insulted the Malaysians – “If you want to be a country of peasants, planting rice and catching fish, okay, we’ll do that for you.”


His latest sarcastic remarks are clearly desperation to justify his proposal to get his car project rolling before he passed the baton to prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim. The real reason why he still couldn’t let go of Proton is because the first national car was supposed to be his greatest legacy to turn Malaysia into an industrialized powerhouse in Asia.


Had the Proton project succeeded, the country would be respected as one of world’s successful automakers – on par with Japan and even America. Mahathir Mohamad will be remembered for generations as the greatest prime minister the country has ever produced. Unfortunately, his pet project is now the property of China, something he had never ever imagined.

First Proton Saga Launching - Mahathir

In his latest justification, Mahathir said his goal had always been to increase the engineering capacity of the country and turn Malaysia into a country of producers instead of consumers. He appears to blame the 32-million populations but himself for not being able to leapfrog the country as an industrialized nation, saying – “Malaysia is a country of consumers, they don’t know how to produce anything.”


He said – “The car industry needs 4,000 parts to make a car. If I give you 4,000 parts and ask you to make a car, you cannot do it. You must learn how to produce the parts, how to fit the parts because when you learn that, you are learning engineering. When you know how to produce the components, you can produce components for other machines, components for other cars in other countries.”


Like it or not, Mahathir was right to say Malaysia must become a country of producers instead of consumers. Take Boeing or Airbus for example. How many tons of rice to plant or fish to catch in order to buy a single high-tech jumbo jet? Industrialization is considered to be one of the indicators of development of a country. It grants the country the instant status of a power to reckon with.

Proton Saga - Cars Waiting To Be Delivered

But building a jumbo jet is too complex and complicated to simple-minded Malaysians. Hence, Mr. Mahathir, impressed with Japan, drove the country to the establishment of Proton in 1983. He said – “All over the whole world, people buy cars more than they buy houses. When you do that, you can achieve volume. When you achieve volume, then the industry will go on.”


Again, he was right to say people buy cars more than they buy houses despite the fact that cars are liability while houses are asset. Once, an employee asked his boss why he bought a RM500,000 BMW M3 instead of a RM500,000 house. The boss replied that nobody would know he owns a half a million ringgit house but with his BMW, he just needed to drive it to show it.


Yet, Mahathir could not explain why for 35 years since the establishment of Proton in 1983, the national automaker needed special protection and billions of dollars of subsidize. Proton was given a variety of government assistance – waived taxes alone totalled up to RM13.9 billion. So, instead of insulting peoples’ intelligence for rejecting his idea of another car project, Mahathir should be ashamed.

Proton Car Salesroom

PM Mahathir should be ashamed that Chinese Geely which was nowhere to be found in 1983 has emerged into such a giant force that they were the one who had bailed out Proton last year when the Chinese acquired 49.9% stake in Proton. He should also enlighten the people why Proton had failed to innovate and produce good quality car but indulged in self complacency instead.


After all, he had been Proton’s chairman since 2014 as well as an advisor since 2003, until his resignation on 13 March 2016, apparently due to his loss of faith in UMNO political party. Ahh, Proton has failed, argued Mahathir, because – “Malaysians prefer to buy imported cars, including those from China. Their choice is Japanese cars and those with a lot of money will choose German cars.”


Well, if Proton has the quality like Japanese Toyota, Honda or Nissan, or the performance like German’s Volkswagen, do you think Malaysians would dump Proton like a plague? Amusingly, the old man who mocked and insulted the people for not supporting national car Proton is the same man whose favourite car was Volkswagen Tiguan, which happens to be the world’s eight best-selling car. Mahathir Mohamad Drove Porsche Cayenne 

His other favourite car was a Porsche Cayenne that his son, Mokhzani Mahathir, gave him for his birthday in 2003. An ardent F1 fan and a Ferrari supporter, Mahathir once reportedly said – “It is fun trying to drive as fast as you can. All these new cars are very high-tech and it is a pleasure to drive them on rough terrain.” Sadly, he wasn’t referring to Proton, was he (*grin*)?


So, is it fair that while the prime minister drove his German-made high quality cars, the unlucky Malaysians should blindly and obediently buy inferior locally manufactured car – again? To be fair, Japanese brands – Toyotas, Hondas and Datsuns – were once inferior cars which were rust-prone, under-built jokes. Toyota almost went bankrupt in 1949 after the Second World War.


In 1950, Toyota’s production was limited to 300 vehicles. Back then, Japanese car makers were known mainly for their habit of ripping off designs – the copycat – from other manufacturers. Toyota’s first passenger car, the 1936 Model AA, was a blatant copy of Dodge and Chevrolet designs, and some parts could actually be interchanged with the originals.

Toyota 1936 Model AA

In 1957, Toyota set up a California headquarters and a year later, the first Toyota was registered in that state. By 1975, Toyota was top import brand in the United States, surpassing even German’s Volkswagen. Japanese auto makers were known for producing reliable cars with well-executed details. Has Proton been a reliable car to begin with?


Perhaps Mahathir was thinking along the same line when he electrified Malaysians with the first Proton Saga in July 1985. Just like the Japanese copycat, the first national car was based on the 1983 Mitsubishi Lancer Fiore platform. It was only in the year 2000 that Proton produced its first indigenously designed car, even though the engine was still sourced from Mitsubishi.


Like the Japanese who copied from the Americans, the Chinese automotive industry was a bigger copycat. Known for its knock-off culture that copies everything from mobile phones to sneakers and handbags to even architecture, Chinese automakers didn’t give a damn about research and development, choosing instead to copy the design of Western and Japanese cars and offering them at much lower prices.

Range Rover Evoque and Land Wind - Side by Side

However, like the Japanese, Chinese-manufactured vehicles have been looking increasingly competitive against international brands over the past couple of years. That’s because the Chinese understood and have been rapidly narrowing the quality gap with international brands. The improved quality of Chinese cars has helped boost sales, something which Malaysian Proton didn’t do.


Two days ago, Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. reportedly surpassed its top three Japanese rivals – Toyota, Honda and Nissan – to become the third-largest carmaker in China, behind Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co. Sure, every country protects their own automotive industries. But they all have something which Malaysia does not.


Those countries’ education system – universities – have developed strong programs that produced high-quality engineers and scientists in large numbers each year, effectively feeding the research programs both in industry and at independent laboratories. More importantly, they have no discrimination or racist policies but put great importance in meritocracy.

Toyota USA - Engineer

True, the Japanese and Korean governments provided R&D support and to this day, Korean and Japanese companies account for over 90% of domestic vehicle sales in their respective countries. However, it’s also true that in both countries their early carmaker companies were able to establish a significant international presence within about 10 years of launching domestic models.


Malaysia’s Proton, despite 35 years in the business, has failed miserably in impressing international markets for obvious reasons. Perhaps Mahathir should present to the people how his third national car project will be different from Proton. If his plan is in producing electric car, how could the new project succeed when genius Elon Musk struggles with Tesla?


Seriously, Mahathir should not laughed at agricultural countries. The world’s top-10 leading food producing countries are China, United States, Brazil, India, Russia, France, Mexico, Japan, Germany and Turkey. Did Mahathir also know that China, America, Japan, Russia and neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam are among the top-10 largest fish producing countries in the world?


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