Widespread media coverage was seen in Proton National Bhd's recent plea for assistance, leading to the government’s granting of a conditional soft loan, and the establishment of the special task force to monitor its transformation.
This plan, to be led by Proton, aims to address structural issues and change perceptions on the brand – both at the domestic and global levels.
It is important for us to move beyond Proton’s recent sales performance and look at the ways to develop a framework for global competitiveness.
Objective capability analysis and the establishment of a competitive ecosystem is vital as Proton faces challenges faced by all carmakers today – survival within the global automotive market.
Since 1983, Proton has generated an ecosystem that spurred Malaysia’s industrial drive into the 21st century.The automotive industry has,in fact, positively affected the country,s economy in countless ways.
Besides component manufacturing and aftersales bases, the industry created the need for local ventures in material supplies, industrial design, tooling, machinery and hardware supply, even marketing and advertising.
Banks also needed to step up to finance businesses and fund consumers’ loans.
The national car project was not just about selling cars, but selling the aspiration for Malaysia to be an industrialised nation.
This has created a huge job market for Malaysians, either through direct involvement in technology based careers, or in supporting institutions that are related to the industry.
Looking three decades ahead, even the harshest of skeptics cannot deny Malaysia’s industrial achievements to date.
The latest Proton models, such as the Preve and Iriz achieved 5 star safety ratings, either at the New Car Assessment Programs (ASEAN NCAP and ANCAP).
These products of our local talents and vendors are a huge step for Proton to break into the export markets, as the safety standardsat proton are now on par with advanced countries - surpassing the safety requirements of our counterparts in the region.
Proton will also launch three new models in the immediate future, which is by any means a mammoth task. At the same time, it is currently developing new energy efficient engines, paving the way for more advances into our domestic technology pool.
Malaysia now sits in a strategic location due to our automotive manufacturing infrastructure.
Proton’s plant in Tanjung Malim has a modern infrastructure for the production of the latest vehicles which require modern manufacturing processes.
Although Proton’s internal achievements have been exciting, it has set forth plans to quickly remedy past weaknesses and risk averse processes, particularly in enhancing the customers’ after sales experience.
While working with its dealerships and service centres on after sales improvement, Proton has introduced many initiatives, such as pick-up and delivery services, mobile assistance, and online service bookings.
Certain service centres also operate seven days a week, to cater to the growing demands among its customers.
Through the National Automotive Policy 2014 (NAP2014), the government has implemented many initiatives to enhance competitiveness of the automotive industry. It is a wide policy to support the industry’s needs, from technology acquisition, human capital development, and after sales development.
The NAP2014 also places passenger safety at par with global standards, through the signing of the United Nations Economy Commission for Europe World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP29).
This will also make Malaysia a conducive market for vehicles with higher safety ratings, as consumer awareness of safety is enhanced throughout the country.
Moving forward, this writer urges all parties to judge the national car maker objectively. Proton, just like any developing carmaker, will have its up and downs in the pursuit of satisfying its customers.
We cannot force consumers to purchase our local products. However we hope consumers will follow the development of our national brands’ with an open mind, and make future purchase decisions based on true quality, and not perceived quality.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.