KUALA LUMPUR: Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has expressed interest in setting up another national car manufacturing company if he can’t have Proton back.
The chairman of opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan, which is eyeing to take over Putrajaya in the upcoming general election, said the new national car manufacturing company would help businesses that have suffered since Proton was sold to Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group (Geely).
“If I cannot get Proton, I have some ideas about starting another automotive company,” said Mahathir at a forum about Chinese investments in Malaysia.
“Remembering, of course, that the idea to build another national car is because (like Proton) it can become a catalyst for the growth of our engineering know-how and capabilities.
“For Proton, various companies were established to manufacture components and parts for the cars.
“Cars need 4,000 parts, so these provide opportunities for manufacturers,” he said, lamenting that since the country no longer had its own car, these local manufacturing companies now had to shut down.
The 92-year-old also expressed sadness at the sale of Proton, which he said had been doing “relatively well” for a developing country.
“No other developing country in the world has been able to produce a motorcar of a standard that is the same as other developed countries.
“Proton cars have all the features of cars coming in from other countries,” he said.
He said the only thing lacking was the cars’ non-conformity to Euro5 standards, which was attainable, “if we are prepared to pay the price.”
In a press conference after the forum, Mahathir said he would give serious thought to setting up a national car manufacturing company if he had the freedom to do so.
He however said this was unlikely as opposition leaders and even their friends have found it difficult to obtain loans that would make such a plan feasible.
Asked if he would attempt to realise the plan if Pakatan Harapan succeeded in forming a government, Mahathir said “maybe”.
“We have a lot of good engineers who have now left Proton and they can start a new automotive company.
“We have the skills, from A to Z. We can design, test…we have everything we need.”
PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar, who was also present at the forum, however dropped a hint that such plans would have to be thoroughly examined first.
“We are also lucky to have experts who can help us make sound decisions, once we become the government,” she said, emphasising on the words “sound decisions”.
Mahathir set up Proton in 1983, with the national car manufacturing company becoming a strong symbol of his industrialisation policies.
It was still acknowledged as a national carmaker even after it came under private ownership of the DRB-Hicom group in 2012.
Proton, at its peak, dominated local automobile sales with nearly 80% of new passenger cars sold coming from its factories.
But over the past 15 years, it fell well behind Perodua and later even lost out to foreign marques like Toyota and Honda.
In May, Second Finance Minister Johari Abdul Ghani announced a deal between DRB-Hicom and Geely, saying that Proton would remain a national car as it would still have a majority share of 50.1%.