TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad has seemingly made good on a pre-election promise that has many quarters worried.
The Prime Minister said the Government is looking at starting a third national car company after Proton and Perodua, since control of Proton, a project he holds dear to his heart, was sold to China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co (Geely).
Lamenting the fact that Proton had been sold, he revealed at the 24th Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia yesterday the Government’s ambition to work on a new national car.
“I am the one who started this national car and it must be owned by Malaysians. In the beginning, we had investments from Mitsubishi Corporation in Japan but eventually, we managed on our own.
“Now, it has been sold to China and it is no longer our national car. Our ambition is to start another national car, perhaps with the help of our partners in South-East Asia,” he said during a 45-minute dialogue session here yesterday.
Dr Mahathir had alluded to the fact that Pakatan Harapan might set up another national car company if it won the general election.
In a news report in August 2017, the Pakatan chairman said the new automotive company could become a catalyst for the growth of engineering know-how and capabilities.
His latest announcement sparked strong reactions among Malaysians, many of whom feel there is a more urgent need to improve public transportation instead.
When pressed on which South-East Asian country he had in mind to partner, Dr Mahathir said: “Maybe Thailand, South Korea, China or even Japan.”
He was replying to a question from Nikkei Asian Review editor-in-chief Sonoko Watanabe as to whether Geely’s purchase of a 49.9% stake in Proton would be reviewed in the wake of other investments and projects by China.
“We have the capacity to produce quality cars which are saleable,” Dr Mahathir said.
Later at the Japan Press Club, he said Malaysia had already acquired most of the skills and technology in car production, but certain parts were expensive to develop.
“We want to source these from other countries, including Japan,” he said.
The reaction to the possibility of yet another national car company had many questioning the feasibility of such a company being set up in Malaysia, given the struggles of Proton and the success of Perodua, which has now captured 41% of the automobile market share in Malaysia.