Last week was a roller coaster for those who follow the Malaysian automotive industry. After more than a year in suspense, Proton finally announced its foreign strategic partner, China's Zhejiang Geely Automotive Co Ltd.
Although this was a business decision made by DRB-HICOM and Proton, it was natural to see a lot of emotional attachment to the national brand. Some felt we were letting go of national pride, while others felt it was time for Proton to chart its own destiny.
As a member of the automotive fraternity for the past 30 years, Proton’s story will always be that bittersweet journey.
If Proton’s establishment created excitement for a nation when it launched the Saga more than three decades ago, imagine the feeling of those inside the factory walls of both original equipmeny manufacturers and component manufacturers.
The tough tides of the industry were not only present in economic recession.
Uncertainty just made situations worse. A vehicle is assembled from thousands of parts – each requires specification, rigourous testing, tooling, many processes and the quality management associated with their life cycle.
If just one part or process comes up short, the vehicle would not be complete.
My brothers and sisters in the industry knew exactly what we all were getting into. The engineering levels were strict, the expectations of both company, customer and consumer were high.
The hard work put in never guaranteed success as a better competitor, a miscued investment or a line drawn in error could destroyers all our efforts.
The question to ask after almost three decades in the industry, is why are we here?
The answer is simple – we heeded the call to be part of a sector of high technology, one that would push us towards higher value, and place us on the global map as carmaker.
A year ago Proton hit that crossroad. The government decided that it was time to spread our wings and fly on our own. Up to that very moment, more than 600 parts and components manufacturers hired more than 250,000 people directly in the automotive talent pool.
While Proton created business and jobs, and developed its models of high safety ratings within its own walls, that didn’t seem like it was enough to break our glass ceiling.
Perhaps its time to ask ourselves, what did we do right?
If you ask me, a lot that Proton did was right. Proton pushed us into industrialisation and created many jobs and businesses in high level manufacturing.
When the Waja was fully developed in-house, we created a full-fledged national carmaker.
Fast forward to last year, Proton was able to launch four new models within 12 months.
The next step has to be making the right choice. Nissan, Renault, Hyundai, Kia, General Motors, Peugoet and Citroen, to name a few, have all had to make this difficult before us. Now is just our turn to do the same.
The aforementioned carmakers still retain their national identity and more importantly - are on the global map.
To achieve a better future, we needed to take a step in the right direction, despite our nostalgia for the way things were.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.