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“Shifting to a Higher Gear: The Saga of Malaysia’s National Carmaker Proton” by Pritish Bhattacharya and Francis E. Hutchinson


• Proton has been a vital part of Malaysia’s industrialization journey and a key pillar of its modernization drive.

• Launched in 1983 to fulfil then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s vision of a pride-infused national car company, the state-owned Proton grew quickly and captured a dominant share of the country’s domestic car market, aided in no small measure by generous protective measures and subsidies.

• However, in the subsequent decades, the car giant lost market share and power due to a variety of challenges, such as non-market performance requirements, less effective protection, and growing competition from a second national car firm and from global car companies.

• The automaker has had a variety of ownership structures over time, but was resolutely kept in domestic hands—public and private. This did increase control over the corporation, but did so at the expense of exposure to and adoption of leading-edge technology.

• This impasse was resolved in 2017, when Proton sold a 49.9 per cent share to the Chinese auto firm Geely. The joint venture has rejuvenated the carmaker, which has begun to reconquer market share through a number of popular SUVs.

• Despite this, the Malaysian auto market is becoming increasingly competitive. Going forward, Proton will need to begin to export significantly to expose its vehicles to new niche markets as well as global standards, obtain and retain skilled workers, and continue to rationalize costs in its supply chains and distributorship.

Trends in Southeast Asia 2024/9, April 2024

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