Is Proton a ‘Malaysian’ car?

By KJ John | Aug 30, 11

Ahmad Talib is a mainstream media personality having served as the former managing editor of the NST. I first met him when I gave a lecture at the Ministry of Information about the National IT Agenda.

Ahmad Talib wrote a recent column where he talked about a conversation he had with Proton CEO Syed Zainal about the story of a Proton taxi-cab which Syed Zainal took from KLIA to go home.

During the trip, twice the taxi driver did not open the power windows to pay his toll but instead opened the entire door. When asked why, the driver complained that he was told that if he used the power window too often, it could easily get spoilt. Therefore, he chose to do it the more difficult way.

Syed Zainal, as reported by Ahmad Talib in his column, told the driver who he was and requested that he continue to use the power window instead and that he would personally get it repaired if it really got spoilt. The Proton CEO even gave his card but to date he had not heard from the taxi driver.

Maybe the advice worked, but in the mean time, Ahmad Talib has since reported that many other Proton owners called to confirm the hypothesis of the taxi driver, based on their own experience.

Now, what is the real problem here? I once had the privilege of visiting Tengku Mahaleel Tengku Ariff in his office when he was CEO of Proton. At a briefing he gave us, he informed the group of visitors from Mimos Berhad that the real problem with Proton was that inadvertently it was positioned and marketed from the beginning as “a people’s car”.

Therefore, Proton was never really able with that brand reputation to reposition its image to compete with the imported versions of other saloons or others of an equal class and quality.

My take on this issue is however somewhat different. My view is that Proton was postured and positioned originally as a national car but over time, with many decisions and many related supplier-vendor crony relationships and concerns, the same car has been redefined as a matter of a “Melayu-developed car of pride” but no more as a Malaysian people’s car.

In fact, today, even the definition of what is a national car, I believe, has now been revised to suit this identity crisis. Today, if I am not mistaken, even an ordinary distributor of cars and marketer of foreign-made cars is even classified as a “maker of national cars”.

Crony interests among suppliers

I remember vividly the day Proton was revealed. Dr Mahathir Mohamad (TDM) had sold it to the nation as a matter of national pride and part and parcel of his pet Bangsa Malaysia agenda.

I did participate with pride in wanting to visit a showroom and see the car for myself. TDM had promised it would be delivered within two years. I even touched and pounded on it to feel the car and see if was made from “Milo and Ovaltine cans”.

But, sadly when real production began in Malaysia, market competitiveness took a back seat as “cronies of the mainstream agenda got the contracts to become vendors and suppliers.”

I speak with sincerity and no malice to anyone. I was faced with some real life cases when I tried to help a good friend from the Sikh community who was already in the curtain tape business and had secured an Australian supplier who could support the development of Proton’s safety belt development at very reasonable costs.

My friend’s family had been in this business for many years.

But, with many crony interests and other small but petty considerations, my friend had to finally give up after a few years of waiting and trying to become a Proton supplier.

With many ‘bad decisions’ like these, slowly but surely, the entire Proton supplier-vendor network in Malaysia may today come from only one community.

Therefore, my reflective question today for all readers is: Is Proton a still a Malaysian car or has it become a psychological symbol to project a Ketuanan Melayu identity?

The same can be asked of Malaysian batik. There was a time in public service when we would be frowned upon if we did not wear authentic Malaysian batik and instead wore Indonesian batik.

Today, I do not drive a Proton but I love Malaysian batik but do not really care whether someone wears Indonesian or Japanese batik. As long as our batik designers make excellent quality of Malaysian batik, I will pay for and wear them.

In my previous two columns, I have raised a similar identity crisis issue in different ways. For one of them, I received a lot of negative and emotional feedback from writers who could not understand or appreciate the need for a concept of nationality. Distinguished Prof AB Shamsul argues, “we are still not yet a nationality but only a state”.

Only one class of citizens

My question to all citizens and Proton, the corporate entity – when are we all ever going to become first-class citizens of the nation-state called Malaysia?

Can we really expect Lee Chong Wei to win the Olympic gold for badminton when there are those who say, “why bother to watch the finals of the badminton, because whether they are Indonesian, or Malaysian, or from China, these are all only Chinese players”. We have to see things beyond race and ethnicity for quality and excellence to be nurtured.

When are we really going to grow up and become proud to be Malaysian, whether Indian, Chinese or Malay or Kadazan or Iban? Or even not care, whether we were originally Javanese, Malayalee, or Cantonese, or Orang Sungai, or Orang Laut, or Orang Asal?

Come on Malaysia, we need to decide who we are and what we want to make out of life, while we make ends meet in this country of ours.

My argument, first made at the Perdana Leadership Talks, was that we all have multiple identities but we are all Malaysians first and foremost. If someone claims he is not, we should ask him to shape up or ship out.

Secondly, we all have a heritage of faith, which defines our worldview. That we cannot deny and this defines our belief systems. Thirdly, we all have an ethnic heritage which defines our culture, a mother tongue and our taste-buds.

Fourthly, we all have a personality. Some are extroverts and others introverts. Some are judgemental and others are feelings driven. Depending on which personality profile instrument you use, you can still learn some very interesting things about yourself and about others. Finally, from my dignity thesis, and the nature of human nature, we get the fact that we all have a human conscience.

Therefore, I dare say this; no one can convert me or force me to do anything that I would not want to do willingly. In the literature this is called free will. All humans have free will. That does not take away the sovereignty of God or what can be called God’s will. God exists at a different paradigm level and too often we cannot know or understand God because we reduce him to our level of thinking.

Let God remain God and man, man. A pot cannot question the potter. What we truly and actually need is to understand who we are and what our purpose in this life is. Once that is clear, then we can move on with the business of living our short life for the glory of our Creator. Our identity cannot be shaken or disturbed only because some called us names or even called us the wrong names.

My take is that if you are an anak Bangsa Malaysia, then you are a first-class Malaysian and no one – yes, no one, and not even the government – can deny you that right, unless you wilfully do something wrong.

May God bless Malaysia and Selamat Hari Raya to all Malaysians.

KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. He is now dean of the Faculty of Economics and Policy Science at UCSI University, Malaysia. The views expressed here are personal views of the writer and not those of the university or any other institution he is involved with. Please write to the columnist at [email protected], if you have any feedback or views.

  1. #1 by asia on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 1:06 pm

    Sound more like ‘Potong’ jalan.

  2. #2 by monsterball on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 1:38 pm

    At first it was Mitsubishi’s car…who took on Malaysian partners.
    The only thing that is Malaysians…. is the name
    Then Japanese was made to give up with hundreds of millions poured in…by Mahathir…forcing the 50/50 joint venture…to make the Japanese car maker…pull out or listen to confirmed new bosses.
    Yes…it was known as a tin can car..and engines are all out-dated from Mitsubishi.
    Malaysians took over and start buying all sort of engines and designs from others.
    So…is Proton a Malaysian car today?
    It is a copycat all along…and the UMNO b guys make a mess out of it…while Mahathir loved to use it for his ideas how to bankrupt the company…save it with Malaysians money and bankrupt it again.
    That’s how UMNO b move all stolen billions.. round and round.
    Right now…Proton is a suicide car to drive around….if you are not an expert.

  3. #3 by k1980 on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 2:14 pm

    Is Proton a ‘Malaysian’ car?
    Are malaysian army men hermaphrodites (have both male and female sax organs) like saifool?

  4. #4 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 2:51 pm

    Is Proton a ‘Malaysian’ car? Yes, of course it is !!

    In some countries, if you were born there, you automatically become its citizen by birth, no matter where your parents came from (like many Malays who were born in the US from our many students sent there to ‘study’.

  5. #5 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 2:56 pm

    So if Proton is assembled here, together with parts from some backyard factories and the like, then it is a Malaysian car.

  6. #6 by undertaker888 on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 2:58 pm

    Malaysian or no Malaysian, I will never buy a proton. It is a scam car. Or the most expensive car in the world if you look it at another angle. Ferrari may be expensive but you get what you pay for. For proton, you get heartaches for what you pay for.

  7. #7 by drngsc on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 3:13 pm

    Dear John,
    Either you are severely politically naive, OR you are trying to be politically correct.
    The question is not when are we going to be Malaysian first?

    With the likes of Perkasa and Katak Ali, the question should be. when do they want us non-Malays, to be Malaysian first. It is not that we do not wish to be, if that certain, insecure, members of the ruling class, who want us as second class citizens.

    That is why
    We must change the tenant at Putrajaya. GE 13 is our best chance. Failure is not an option. Let us all work very very hard.

  8. #8 by waterfrontcoolie on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 3:40 pm

    Up to date, I am still wondering as to the real % of the parts which are made solely in this countrty! Let us just look at what our Northern neighbour has done. Yes, they do not pretend to want to call a car of their own but they first assembled and then build parts and then build cars “assigned” to them by the manufacturers; today they export millions of cars. When can we really build one with all by ourselves? With Cronies riding behind , one could hardly ask for a best deal! In today’s market

  9. #9 by cemerlang on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 3:47 pm

    We can learn something from the Chery car made in China. And didn’t she fake a RollsRoyce until Britain talks about taking her to court ? The very first car was invented by Henry Ford, though before him there were others trying their hands at the many gadgets but it was he who managed to make that gadget move. So whatever car it is from Toyoto to Hyundai to General Motors, it is called technology transfer. We only need to chop and put the brand name there and say that it is our own. But when politics come in and you want to make Malaysia as great as Japan and with limited funds, what do you think ? Yes, you succeeded in pushing your idea and your idea become reality except quality is different from the other cars. Then we try selling it overseas. So if we want to make it a real success, the quality has to be improved and to be as good as the other cars. The competition is very strong and we need something to make Proton viable.

  10. #10 by Godfather on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 4:03 pm

    Of course Potong is a Malaysian car made in the usual Malaysian style of taking other people’s backsides and pasting it on our faces. The Inspira is no inspiration because it is a Lancer chassis with a Renault engine.

    Earlier this year, the Gomen was considering what to do with the aging Perdana cars given to senior civil servants. Of course Potong doesn’t produce the Perdana anymore, and more and more civil servants are being promoted and qualify for 2000 cc cars. Some senior civil servant had a brilliant idea – why not go for a foreign car, but rebadge it as a Potong car ? So they approached Honda who promptly told the Gomen to get lost. Next they approached Nissan, who apparently is still considering if they would allow their Teana to be re-badged as a Potong.

    This is the type of mentality we have. The kampung folks don’t really know because they have been brainwashed by Mamakthir about pride and prejudice.

  11. #11 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 6:28 pm

    Proton will always b d icon of MMK’s failure, a low quality car sustained by protective laws
    Every Proton owner will experience faulty power windows, faulty door handles, etc
    Just look around, how many kaya raya Malays drive Proton cars?
    Gaya mahu n certainly not with Proton, over their dead bodies, man!
    Rakyat truly conned by MMK n hv 2 pay through their noses 4 cars which shld really not cost so much, all bcos 2 protect Proton n other so-called M’sian cars

  12. #12 by ktteokt on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 7:22 pm

    And to make Proton look “cheap” in the eyes of Malaysians, the government has imposed extra duty on imported cars! This is just another way of PAMPERING Proton! May be in the intial years of production, Proton may need PROTECTION, but after so long, it is still being accorded this privilege! So, how do you expect it to be competitive????

  13. #13 by cskok8 on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 8:36 pm

    You can tell how “Malaysian” our Protons and Peroduas are by the disruption that occurred after the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan.

  14. #14 by Taxidriver on Tuesday, 6 September 2011 - 11:22 pm

    Never mind whether it is a Malaysian, Melayu or Mamak car. All that is not important, so long as the one who mooted the idea and his family members and cronies reap big profit. Never mind if Proton company continues to lose money because it is the taxpayers’ money. Economic boom or economic downturn, it makes no difference to our corrupt leaders.

  15. #15 by dagen on Wednesday, 7 September 2011 - 8:32 am

    Proton a malaysian car? Come on. Its a ketuanan car meant strictly for the supreme master race. For the Tuan Rempit McBullies. And the rest of us, Hamba deBullies? Oh we better stay far far away from the kereta jenis ketuanan oleh ketuanan utk ketuanan.

  16. #16 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 7 September 2011 - 9:50 am

    Proton is a protect species in 1M’sia, cos by evolutionary n market forces, it should hv been extinct a long while ago
    As it is, lots of low- n medium-income rakyat r forced 2 buy Proton, no choice mah
    If Toyota, Nizzan, n Mazda cars r priced similarly, Proton n Perodua sure mampui jor

  17. #17 by Ray on Wednesday, 7 September 2011 - 11:24 am

    Copied designed from mitsubshi >>How can lah??
    Mamak dreamland project for sure>>Better Not to set up this copycat industry unless Umno has its own innovation >>a Big flip flop Money wastage bank sucked dried project Further more >>Proton based on what to compete on International std and market > for sure Mamak proven good for Balik kampong ,semayang and for shiok relax lah also not so affordable to the poor poorer malays as times ticking by …kenapa?? >>its All due to these Stupid political leaders Umno kakis in Malaysia with colourful title but ZERO BRAIN!Proton better close shop yesterday!!

  18. #18 by Tom Peters on Thursday, 8 September 2011 - 7:53 am

    Originality is a powerful nationalist. France has an icon in Peugeot, Italy in Ferrari and Germany in Benz. Malaysia has an icon in the understated Tara Klamp. The nation leads in safe circumcision ….

    The complete article is at the link

  19. #19 by Kedahan-Malaysian in Japan on Sunday, 11 September 2011 - 1:04 pm

    Good afternoon Professor… to your question ‘when are we all ever going to become first-class citizens of the nation-state called Malaysia?’… may I suggest that ‘first-class’ be omitted?
    I would just like to see that all of us are simply ‘citizens’ of our country… as for Proton, I hope to see the end of it, the sooner the better… I hope we can open up the auto market/industry and follow the Thailand way…

  20. #20 by boh-liao on Sunday, 11 September 2011 - 3:41 pm

    Proton n Perodua, over-priced sampah cars created by MMK n his cronies 2 extort $$ fr no-choice rakyat so as 2 enrich themselves
    Given a choice with equally or lower priced foreign cars, most of us would not hv bot Proton or Perodua garbage cars, always got parts break down n 2 change 1

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