Call time on national car — M’sia needs to build international carPOSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 22 June 2015
By Y S CHAN
WHEN the Proton Saga was launched in 1985, many Malaysians were filled with pride at the introduction of the national car.
In fact, it was a little more than a rebadged Mitsubishi, except it had more content made in Malaysia than other locally assembled cars.
The pattern stayed the same for subsequent Proton models until the Proton Waja was introduced in 2000. This locally designed model was fitted with Mitsubishi engines until they were replaced by CamPro engines co-developed with Lotus in 2007.
The first model with both chassis and engine developed in Malaysia was the Proton Gen-2 in 2004, almost two decades after the launch of the Saga.
The entry of Proton and protectionist policies brought much disruption to other players in the motor industry.
Some policies were direct, such as the disparity of duty and taxes between national and non-national cars, which distorted car prices considerably.
Others included raising the engine capacity of cars allowed to be licensed as taxis to 1.5 litres so that the popular Nissan Sunny 130Y was no longer an option.
Over the next two decades, the Mitsubishi-powered Proton Saga became the bread-and-butter model for taxis in Malaysia.
While taxi drivers were happy with the low maintenance, tall passengers had to be seated first with their feet on the ground, and then fold their legs to turn past the centre pillar into the taxi.
Fortunately, the relatively low-tech Mitsubishi carburettor engine was legendary with its reliability.
I drove such a taxi from 2004 to 2010 and even though the engine overheated twice, it did not require a top-end overhaul, much less a complete overhaul.
In the first instance, a plastic bag somehow managed to get stuck in front of the radiator and I drove on until the overheated engine seized. The second time was when the rust inside the radiator blocked water circulation.
After the Proton Exora (above, 2014 model) was introduced in 2009, a few taxi companies offered this MPV model to taxi drivers.
Although the CamPro engine was suitable for private use, it proved inadequate for taxis running on compressed natural gas which produced a higher heat.
It did not take long for many of these drivers to dump their Proton Exoras at taxi companies’ workshops after experiencing burnt engine valves more than once.
The Land Public Transport Commission has picked the Proton Exora as the future model for all metered taxis — Teksi 1Malaysia (TEKS1M) — and one would hope that the overheating problems of the engine will have been solved.
However, many TEKS1M drivers reported that they were given run-arounds by Proton Edar salesmen even after securing loans from Bank Simpanan Nasional.
To migrate all metered taxis to TEKS1M, taxi companies must be roped in to provide financing to drivers who failed to qualify for bank loans.
For a very long time, taxi companies have been unfairly accused of charging high rental rates. In truth, the permits are rented out at no more than RM20 per day, with the balance of payment as rental purchase of the vehicle, including third party insurance cover, road tax and bi-annual inspection fees.
Taxi companies have to charge much higher interest rates to balance the additional risks they are taking. For example, by dumping the relatively new Proton Exoras, the drivers would lose the down payment and instalments paid, but the taxi company’s losses would be greater if they cannot find another driver to take over.
As for the bank, it has no choice but to take TEKS1M drivers to court and it is likely to suffer the same fate because many hire-purchase loan defaulters have been declared bankrupt.
From 1990 to 2000, I was a lecturer and examiner for tourist guide training courses. I often reminded students not to point at a Proton and declare it as our national car.
Foreign tourists will be puzzled as they have not heard of cars manufactured by National or Panasonic.
Instead, they may say it is a Malaysian car, just as there are Japanese, Korean and German cars. But it would be better to set aside national pride and manufacture international cars for the global market.