My opinions on Proton was published today in The Star. I was so busy that I didn't have time to read the papers at all till 8pm.
Before I even managed to see my article in the papers, I received a few calls and messages from friends and family about it. Some disagreed with me and said the biggest problem with Proton is quality.
Look at the Big Three carmakers in the United States of America. Are they really good carmakers?
I agree they are. Their utes, sedans, trucks and 4WD are amazing machines. But at what price do they come in? Read on and try to understand the fairytale.
Proton is going to be 26 years old. When we started off with Proton Saga in the 1980s, Malaysian engineers learnt from there with the assistance of Mitsubishi, as much as they could.
Resources, knowledge and finances were limited - only to be enhanced by the backing of our Malaysian Government and protectionist policies.
The Malaysian Government is actually very poor. Malaysians will get mad if we have something like this - Uncle Sam Grabs the Wheel.
We want quality cars but at the price of mud and dirt. Be patient, I am sure many will begin to disagree with me already. Read on and you will understand.
It seems to me Malaysians all agree on one thing - QUALITY. Of course we can be like Ford, GM and Daimler.
We can borrow billions of dollars and fund our sales, marketing and especially Research and Development departments.
The question is, what will the plan be when things go awry? Will Malaysians agree with a USD 17 billion bailout, just like what the automotive makers in US are enjoying now?
To produce quality cars, it is not that simple. Things do not come right out of textbooks. We have two options actually.
The first option is to spend billions of dollars to acquire the knowledge and technology from the top carmakers (just like how we spent on Lotus and the CamPro Engine). The technology, quality and design of cars are patented. These knowledge and quality can only be acquired at a price. Nothing comes free, right?
The second option is to invest a big sum in the Research and Development department of Proton. That funds have to come from somewhere. The Government is not willing to pump in money. Malaysians, who are always complaining of being poor, are driving Hondas, Toyotas, Mercedes and Beemers.
No one supports Proton. Not even Terengganu, Penang, Perak and Selangor Government officials.
Malaysians want quality cars. But can quality cars come overnight? Yes they can if Proton invests heavily with borrowings and have a safety net if things go bad, just like the Big Three in US.
Unfortunately, money does not fall from the sky in Malaysia for Proton. Only in the United States for the Big Three. Even the Koreans will soon have a bailout too with news of Ssangyong facing financial troubles.
Americans are so different from Malaysians. When their companies fall, Americans scream:
1. Buy American!
2. Save our jobs, save us Americans!
In Malaysia, when our companies fall, many will scream:
1. If we can't compete, shut down!
2. Why save the companies? That's the taxpayers' money!
3. Cronyism (In China it is called guanxi, in US it is called networking - Malaysians call it cronyism)
These words, are only uttered by those unaffected.
Imagine the 100,000 or so people who are affected when companies tumble. They will be jobless and they cannot pay bills, feed their family and pay for medical bills. Malaysians are heartless - at times.
Whatever it is, there are two sides and I have to be fair. Mismanagement in Proton exists, that is for sure.
When Tengku Mahaleel was the CEO, Malaysians see a momentum of car production, quality amd design. We were improving at a desired pace.
Sadly, due to politics, Tengku Mahaleel was directed to the EXIT door. Proton was never the same - with their 1 Euro sale of MV Augusta, poor car sales, heavy losses, the tale of the disappearance of the cash reserves, slow pace in launching new models.
These must be corrected. A proper management of Proton must be in place.
A new Saga was born last year. Soon, we hope to see Proton competing with other carmakers.
A long term plan will be to open their doors and invite Malaysian fresh graduates in automotive engineering from overseas as well as experts to join Proton.
Protecting local graduates is a good thing. But Proton is in need of help. The two options stated above are too expensive to execute. Proton must begin to open up.
Having said these, I must say I am always impressed with Toyota cars. the organization, their business model and their profits. The new Camry is an eye-catching machine.
Perhaps Proton can start knocking on Toyota's doors and negotiate something with them.
Everyone needs friends. So do carmakers. This is the Proton fairytale.
(Credits to Car.com, Wikipedia, Bernama, and The Star for the photos)