KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 24 — Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad maintained his proposal for a third national car was to encourage the country to shift its focus from consumption to production.
In an interview with the Malaysiakini news portal upon his return from China, the prime minister repeated his observations of how the country was a major producer for the world.
He added that Malaysia briefly had a glimpse of this when the first Proton Saga rolled off the assembly line in 1985.
“Go to any other developing country and find out whether they have a national car or not, they don't. We have,” he was quoted as saying.
“But we have no pride that all in our things. We want to buy foreign. You become a consumer society, you will never be rich. All your money will be flowing out.”
Dr Mahathir insisted that the automotive sector could rapidly enhance Malaysia’s technical expertise due to the complexity of modern vehicles.
Carmaking requires both engineering and research skills as well as a large supporting industry that could be ideal for gradual upskilling, he argued.
“When you know how to produce the components, you can produce components for other machines, components for other cars in other countries.
“You learn a whole load of practical engineering from building a car,” he reportedly said.
While he conceded other industries such as rail that could confer similar benefits, he insisted that the auto sector was the most ideal.
“Why do we go for cars? Because the car market in the world is the biggest despite the car being costly because people spend money on cars. In China, (they) produce 37 million cars per year,” he said.
When asked how a third national car would avoid Proton’s decline, he said it was imperative to “protect” the sector.
“Even in Germany and Europe, they are protecting indirectly, not through taxes but by non-tariff barriers. They protect their product. But we, we open our market to everybody.
“You go to Japan, you don't see any (other) but Japanese car. You go to Korea, you see Korean cars. You go to China, all the cars there are made in China,” he said.
Despite his continued zeal for the idea, Dr Mahathir acknowledged that it will take a long time to fulfill.