The biggest car producers by volume - Toyota, General Motors, Volkswagen and Hyundai - are world renowned brands. Together with prominent manufacturers such as Ford, Nissan, Honda, BMW and Daimler, they are from the biggest car-producing countries in the world - Japan, the United States, Germany and South Korea.
Interestingly, despite each brand being associated to a particular country, many car manufacturers have international ownership, and also source their parts from around the world.
Volkswagen, for example, lists Qatar Holdings LLC, and other foreign institutional investors as more than 30per cent of its shareholders. Toyota, lists 31per cent of its shareholdings as “Foreign corporate entities”.
MINI, which has for years been associated as a British brand, is owned by the BMW group of Germany. Similarly, Chevrolet is an American brand, with of its models being designed and manufactured in South Korea.
However, despite the internationalisation of many car makers, many consumers still associate a brand with its home origin. The MINI is still romanticised in films as a British made car, Chevrolet is still considered an American brand.
Toyota, despite sourcing its US$32 billion worth of components from around the world, is still considered a Japanese carmaker.
When a consumer enters the showroom, he or she is introduced to the models available from the marque. Despite a model’s performance, safety features, interior equipment etc, many consumers would also like to know where the car came from. It is also very common to see the salesman citing the origin of the brand as part of the sales pitch.
This says one thing – a model’s branding is associated with the people and culture of the country of its origin.
While it may be true that purchasing decisions are not based on nationalistic sentiment, one may argue that a nation’s technology capabilities and the culture of technology awareness resonates among the people that made that particular brand.
As a result, there is an inherent perception of products from these countries.
A car made in Japan exemplifies reliability, technology is associated with German cars, value for money is represented through Korean models, and Swedish models are built for safety.
Malaysian built cars have come a long way since we started assembly operations in the 1970s, to the numerous models we see today that were designed by our own engineers.
Our cars have received high safety ratings both in the ASEAN and Australasian New Car Assessment Program (NCAP).
Long gone are the days where faulty power windows were a problem. Our cars have excellent ride and handling for its class.
Yet today, we are still seeking the formula to successfully export our cars to the global markets and receiving mixed reviews from our local consumers.
Our automotive history has been steeped in nationalistic ideals, however, those same ideals have not led us to where we need to be on the global map.
A brand does not just symbolise a product, but also represents its culture, quality and passion. Perhaps, we have to look at our national brand from that perspective. Customers want quality, reliability and value for money – and these values make them proud to own that car.
If our national car is a product of international cooperation, it does not mean that it is not a Malaysian car. It just means we have taken the necessary steps to ensure we produce a marque that the world is proud to own.
Let the customers remember where the brand originated from.
At the end of the day, the brand becomes Malaysia’s ambassador to the world.