THERE is something about Proton that gets people excited, for good and bad. Perhaps it is the car. Perhaps it is the man behind the car. After all, Proton was the brainchild of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. As a national carmaker, Proton enjoyed government support in terms of taxes and protective measures. And these some economists were disturbed about. So were other carmakers. And understandably so. But the fact remains: at one point in time, Proton was a market leader with 75 per cent of the country’s auto sales.
It must be said that critics are putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps they are speaking from different premises. What they should do, though, is to give the man’s idea a chance to prove its worth. Because the man has ideas, and, some of his ideas are ahead of their time. Like his idea of electric vehicles (EVs) he talked about in the 1990s.
Dr Mahathir is not talking about giving Proton Saga a second birth. On the contrary, his idea is about an electric-powered Perotiga. It may very well be Malaysia’s route to reaching a high technology, developed economy status. South Korea took such a route six decades ago. In the 1960s, the country was an agriculture-based economy like ours. Within 60 years, it grew to be the 14th richest country in the world (by GDP). It found its way to the top of the table through high technology and heavy engineering. Millions of computers, high technology mobile phones and fully-digitalised cars later, South Korea is a developed nation envied by many of its Asian neighbours. Perhaps the good doctor has South Korea on his mind.
Professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram has a point. The economist and a member of the Council of Eminent Persons wants Perotiga to be given consideration as it may well be part of the prime minister’s game plan to turn Malaysia into a high-technology country. Jomo suggested to Berita Harian that our Proton partner, Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which has a 49.9 per cent stake in Proton Holdings, be encouraged to turn Malaysia into an export hub for medium-sized cars. Perhaps through this route, China’s manufacturing might and technology may help put Malaysia’s Perotiga on the roads of Southeast Asia’s 550-million strong market.
EVs may be at a very early stage of development but they are the way to go. According to EV-volumes.com, an electric vehicle world sales database, quarter one deliveries for this year were 312,400 units worldwide, 59 per cent higher than for the same period last year. The website listed China, Canada, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain and Australia as the fastest-growing markets with more than 100 per cent growth in sales. Market share leaders were Norway (46 per cent), Iceland (26 per cent) and Sweden (seven per cent). EV market penetration will increase further as the world gets serious about climate change. If we do it right, Perotiga EV may be the way to reinvent Proton.