• Madani Sahari

A night that summarises four decades

The Car of the Year 2018 (COTY) concluded this week, recognising the contribution of the Malaysian automotive industry to the nation’s economy.

It was the third time since the Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) – formerly the Malaysia Automotive Institute – hosted the event, continuing its tradition of holistic recognition of industry contribution in technology, price competitiveness, safety and energy efficiency in cars today.

My heartfelt congratulations go out to all the winners and nominees for your continued efforts and innovation in enhancing the competitiveness of the automotive industry.

There was however one addition to this year COTY, that transpires the awards beyond a review of 2018, but looked back four decades ago into the reasons why we are all here in the first place.

For the first time, COTY recognised the person that envisioned Malaysia’s industrialisation drive, through the establishment of the automotive sector.

The Lifetime Automotive Award recognised the father of the automotive industry, Tun. Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as its first ever recipient.

Come January this year, this column would have entered its sixth year, speaking to the community at large about the ideas and solutions to take our industry to the next level.

Of course, it is miniature compared with the foresightedness of Dr. Mahathir’s vision, transforming an economic landscape that was heavily dependent on raw materials and commodities, to a producer of one of the most complex products in the world.

My first few articles were about the very reason the industry was mooted. The New Economic Policy envisioned a comprehensive social and economic transformation, making tertiary education a key focus, in areas of science, technology and engineering.

To ensure that meaningful careers were created at the time, the Heavy Industry Corporation of Malaysia (HICOM) was established,  creating the various national OEMs and 1st Tier vendors seen today within the ecosystem – the likes of Proton, HICOM, Modenas, etc.

This spurred the required economic activity, at both upstream and downstream levels, for Malaysians – state-owned enterprises a necessary backbone to this new technology-based economy, eventually graduating into a critical mass of privatised enterprises, preparing for market liberalisation within the globalised economy.

Most beautiful places are often only accessible by rough roads. Naturally, there were numerous paths towards success. His leadership, however, was based on reasoning and rationale – true to the science that he pursued – and created a culture of healthy debate and discussion in advancing the industry.

Since we started, the automotive industry is still Malaysia’s favourite debate topic.

Dr. Mahatir’s thoughts and ideas were delivered bluntly, and he did not hold back his reservations.

For me, this was key – it kept our scopes on the right track, it kept us grounded, and persistent in mastering our own craft, while slowly shedding the crutches of dependence on others.

Today, a new generation has taken over the helm of the automotive industry.

It is also a new world of mobility, with new technologies coming into the automotive foray for us to learn, experiment and eventually commercialise and produce for the world.

The faces, leaders and administration may change over time. However, we must always be mindful of why we exist as an automotive fraternity – we are responsible for the people, their families, businesses and institutions that contribute to the building of a nation that sits on the technological world map.

While our forefathers fought for their sovereign independence, our struggle today is the fight for economic and social independence – simply put, that starts with the understanding a goal set four decades ago, to emerge not as a leading consumer, but a leading producer of the world’s technology.

For me, Tun Dr. Mahathir’s Lifetime Automotive Award is not just a recognition of a man, but also a recognition and a refresher for us all, of the true cause to our existence as the automotive fraternity.

The industry may have been a vision of just one man –  for all of us, that vision is a roadmap and true path towards becoming a great nation.

I am honoured to be a product and a member of this great journey.

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