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Proton: Why Business and Nationalism Won’t Mix

I’m writing this in response to a recent comment by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Proton. I don’t know how Tun Dr Mahathir sees (or saw) the national car industry as a politician, so I’m not going to comment much on that. I will instead focus my writing on how I see the Malaysian car industry.

The reasons behind the birth of Proton are noble causes indeed. Primarily, Proton is to realise the vision of creating affordable cars for Malaysians. For a while, this plan was actually heading towards the right path. The Proton Saga was definitely an affordable model.

Amidst the celebratory fanfare on its launch, the Saga met, and probably exceeded the expectations of Malaysian motorists… at least aesthetically. It looks nice, unoriginal (earlier Proton models are clones of older Mitsubishi ones), but still… nice.

It’s not long before design flaws of the Saga begin to surface, among which, the one with the most notoriety would be the infamous “power window problem”, which many claim to still haunt current Proton models.

In the meantime, the inevitable evolution in automative technology keeps moving forward. While the honchos at Proton were busy with something else (probably enjoying their earnings), it seems that they’ve forgotten that cars need to be improved upon constantly. Imported cars continue to define quality that consumers crave… but Proton, probably lulled by the market protection provided by the Malaysian government, failed to react proactively.

And when the second (and in my opinion, real) national car project, Perodua, was launched… it was obvious to almost everyone, except the staunch politician supporters of Proton, that it is gravely mismanaged, has no strategic vision beyond milking Malaysian consumers aided with the overprotective tariffs on foreign cars, and management who are out of touch with business realities.

Although placed in an “inferior” market segment (small cars, under 1000cc), Perodua didn’t take long to outshine the far bigger Proton. Perodua provides a refreshing look to Malaysians on how a dynamics automative player should be. It constantly redesigns its models to suit current trends. Although based on Daihatsu compact car models, Perodua managed to give its products an identity that is uniquely Perodua. Compared to Proton, whose current Saga model still stinks of the Iswara which is more than a decade old.

To make things worse, Proton idea of “redesign”, seems to mean making their cars more “rice-ish”, or as Malaysians (and Singaporeans) puts it “ah beng-ish”. I have no idea which market segment Proton is trying to entice… perhaps they’re just trying to add “value for money” to those people who like to transform their cheap Protons into imitation Evos and Lancers.

Marketing wise, Perodua is far more adept at identifying potential, and more importantly profiting from it. Proton, on the other hand, are champions of hype. I can’t help but feel that they like to hear the sound of their own voices… even when spouting nonsense. While Proton was busy telling whoever bothered to listen on how revolutionary their Tiara Replacement Model (now known as Savvy) will be, and publishing “teasers” on the media, Perodua pulled off one of the most intelligent publicity maneuvering in the Malaysian automative industry… it launched their latest model, the Myvi, a week before the scheduled official launching of Proton’s similar spec’ed model.

This move by Perodua, took all the buzz generated by Proton’s hype campaign and absorbed it in all it’s glory, leaving Proton dazed at the lacklustre acceptance of it’s Savvy model. Proton never recovered from this miscalculated promotional strategy. To add insult to injury, the television advertisement for Proton Savvy oozes stupidity and seem more like a junk food ad (you know, the one with a useless “free” toy inside) rather than one for a car. I’m sure that most Malaysians have seen it, the one where a monster used the Savvy to scratch its ass (or back, depending on how you see it). I was dumbfounded to say the least… the ad was amateurish, unintelligent and to be honest, blatantly false. If this was a junk food ad, I’m sure that the Malaysian Parliament will be discussing on how it misleads children and whatnot.

And don’t let me even start on the nonsense coming up from the pro-Proton camp, during the recent AP issue. You can read them yourself. It seems that these people have difficulty accepting the fact that Proton is uncompetitive. Proton’s over-reliance on government protection has blinded the company on the harsh realities of world economics. The basic law of supply and demand seems unabsorved by the strategists at Proton… how else can you explain saturating the market with rehashes of obsolete models? People won’t demand for old junk, no matter how much you change how the lights look… it still is old junk.

Another irritating tendency (politically connected) Proton supporters have is to equate Proton with nationalism. Whenever you hear these people talk on TV, it’s like you’re not Malaysian if you don’t support Proton. To be honest, Proton was a good plan… however, its implementation begs a lot of questions. Do Malaysians really benefitted from Proton, or was it Proton that profitted from Malaysians?

How I wish I could just let these people understand that market dynamics are nothing personal, and especially not political… it’s just business! You deliver what makes consumers happy, they’ll reward you with brand loyalty. You shove your products down their throat, expect them to vomit it back in your face. It has absolutely zilch to do with national pride. Live with it. Proton will probably die without even realising this… perhaps this is destined to happen anyway.

7 responses to “Proton: Why Business and Nationalism Won’t Mix”.

  1. dreamstate Says:

    I have never bought a Proton and I will never will even if that is the only car left for sale in the world. That being said, you do need to have your facts correct in order to slam Proton.

    1. Proton was never about creating affordable cars for Malaysians. Right from the start, the price of the other imports was raised to make Proton seem affordable. The different today? None.

    2. Proton has never been a good plan. One of the thing Proton killed is farming. That made it necessary to import more food which it suppose to be offset by Proton exports that never happen apart from some pathetic number to UK, Australia, and China. The other thing Proton killed is the assembly plant of the other cars. Though they are foreign models, their assembly plant was generating jobs which all of Proton cannot match. The list goes on.

    3.The power window problem is not a design problem but a parts problem. Using really low grate parts is the major cause of Proton’s poor quality.

    4. ProDua’s market segment is really not “inferior”. It’s just more like economical. Driving a Ferrari in a traffic jam is “inferior”. Reason, wasting patrol and most likely repair required when engine blows from the heat.

    One thing you got spot on though, Proton loyal is really not nationalism. As a nationalism, one should push to close Proton. In my opinion, that move will do more good to the country then harm.

  2. Dabido (Teflon) Says:

    I drive a Proton Satria. Sales were good in Aussie for a while. (Especially when they had the Aussie Olympians doing the commercials for them) They died off after while. They still sell Protons. Mines run very well since I bought it in 1997. Only problem is it is made of tissue paper. Look at it the wrong way and it dents.

    It’s driven me across the Nullabour plains without a problem, except hitting a Kangaroo.

    Other than that, still in very good woking order. And yeah, it look sexactly like a Mitsubishi Mirage … in fact, one of my friends in Sydney had a Mirage (same colour) and we could park them next to each other and they’d look like the same car except for the badge!

    It’s hard to make in-roads into Australia though, because we manufacture Holdens, Fords, Toyota and Mitsubishi’s here (and Nissan, Crysler and others were being made here, but they packed up and left).

  3. Site Admin Azmeen Says:

    Thanks to both of you on your comments.


    Here’s my response to your comments, also in point form;

    1. That’s your opinion on the issue. To be honest, it is very similar to my own. However, I do have to maintain some sort of balanced objectivity in my writing. So I choose to write about one of the “official” stance that Proton adopted in its early days 🙂
    2. Perhaps the aftermath of the birth of Proton the way you’ve put it might not be direct consequences. Perhaps through careful analysis, probably using the dynamics of the “chaos theory”, you’ve reached this conclusion. I’m not saying it’s wrong, neither am I affirming it. What I can say though, is that this particular point of yours warrants a lot to be thought about. Definitely insightful… strange, but insightful nontheless.
    3. The quality of input defines the overall quality of the finished product. Your point is just as valid as mine. The way I view it, everything must have a preconceived idea behind its implementation. You choose to focus more specifically than me. However, I hope we can agree that something is definitely flawed in Proton’s manufacturing process.
    4. There’s a reason why I put the word “inferior” in quotes (and italicised at that ;)). It’s my way of being sarcastic. I’m a Perodua customer myself and have used two Perodua models personally, and on occassions used my family’s Rusa. I’d definitely agree that Perodua produces some of the most fuel efficient automobiles in the Malaysian market, bar the Rusa, which I never liked anyway 😛

    I’m an unabashed capitalist, and thus subscribe to the belief that all in all, it’s the bottom line that matters the most… Not nationalism, not “changing the nation/world/universe”, but giving consumers what they need and want at a price they’re willing to pay.


    There’s a Malaysian saying that Protons are made out of Milo tins. They’re just too fragile. Given the right angle of contact, a minor brush (by a motorcycle, mind you) is enough to drop a Wira’s rear bumper. I’m not making this up, I’ve seen this happen at least two times.

    Arguably, the Gen2 is the most original Proton model. However, even this “original design” has a very noticable design flaw. If you happen to be a passenger on the rear seat of a Gen2, I can almost guarantee that your head will hit the rear windshield everytime there’s a small bump on the road. It’s just too close for comfort 😛

    Again, thanks to both of you for commenting, I appreciate it very much 🙂

  4. dreamstate Says:

    Before my first comment, I had a hunch that we agree on the end points but differ on the details. 🙂

    Anyway, here I present you with my reasoning for what I have said but not for the sake of arguing. Just clarifying my point of view. Maybe a healthy debate too.

    1. The way I see it, if the official stance and reality is difference, then either the officials or reality is lying. You be the judge. On a more objective note, it is very obvious that the tax impose on import models and exempted for Proton is a means to protect the local car industry (spell Proton at that time). This is tax in addition to the tax structure on cars before Proton came along. So, if the officials stance is to provide affordable cars to the public, the tax policy really don’t show. This practice reminds me of merchants that marks up the price 20% then stick a big sign that says “SALES 10% HURRY! WHILE STOCK LAST” Also, I feel that when figures are available, it’s not an opinion anymore.

    2. There is a document detailing about how much jobs was lost because the other car assembler was put out of business and how many jobs Proton created. Can’t remember where though and too lazy to search (sorry la, long day). Anyway, if the plan was to improve the agriculture sector rather then focusing on industrialization projects like Proton, The farming side of things in Malaysia will not be in such a bad shape. This too I have no figure on hand, but I do suspect the figures are not difficult to pin down. What I did not mention in the initial comment was that if the government were to focus on improving the public transportation rather then trying to put a car into everyone’s hand (preferably a Proton too), then the traffic condition in the Kelang Valley will not be so bad. This point alone makes me feel that the whole country have been support (in a stressful way) Proton for 20 plus years all in the name of nationalism.

    3. Yes we agree that something is flawed in each and every Proton. However, I think there is a slight but important difference between what you are saying and what I am saying. If it is a design flaw, then no matter what you do, short of a redesign, you won’t be able to fix it. For instance, take the bumper. Now that’s a design flaw because it is design to be sticked on with double sided tape rather then screw on with proper screw mounting and screws. You would have to change the design to fix the problem. That is to make your own screw mounting and add screws. Now, the power window issue is usually just a matter of using a better quality parts (if you can get your hands on it, that is) then the problem will go away. Having said that, I do also think we are close enough to come to an agreement on this point. Going into more details will be splitting hair. Just one more thing to think about. The design of the Perdana’s gear box is a design that Mitsubishi considers flawed (no Mitsubishi cars uses this gear box), however, Proton chose to use it because it is the cheapest gear box (for obvious reason). I really don’t know how to classify this one…

    4. Well, you’ve got me there. I did not pick up on your sarcasm and you are right to slam people who really feels that ProDua is an inferior brand name.

    Unabashed capitalist? Me on the other hand lives in a perfect world. 😀

  5. HTNet Says:

    What’s Next for Proton?

    Hmm… I never expected to write another entry regarding Proton, after this piece written in October last year. But recent developments have encouraged me enough to again, give my two cents regarding “Malaysia’s National Car Company&#8…

  6. Keon Says:

    After read the article about Proton’s weaknees,i have some question.How Proton improved.Any target selection and positioning need to make implementation.


  7. Keon Says:

    Pls reply as soon as possible.Thanks…