By Kamarul Azhar
The picture for Proton is totally different. Despite all the protective measures put in by the government, it has not made any impact outside of Malaysia. When Hyundai launched its first model in 1967, it was a rebadged Ford Motor Company’s Cortina. Proton did the same, with its maiden model launched in 1985 — the Saga, a rebadged Mitsubishi Lancer Fiora. After almost a decade of rebadging Ford’s models, Hyundai graduated as a fully fledged carmaker when it introduced its first home-grown model, the Pony, in 1975. Soon enough, the car was exported to Ecuador, the Benelux countries and Canada. In 1986, Hyundai exported its cars to the US, then the largest car market in the world. While Hyundai cars used to be dismissed as unreliable, the company persevered and continued building its brand image by investing in design and build-quality as well as undertaking long-term research of its cars.
Proton has not utilised the protection and privileges it enjoyed over the past 30 years to become a globally competitive car company that is able to stand on its own. Instead, it is still dependent on some form of protection. And it continues to enjoy a research and development grant amounting to close to RM200 million a year from the government, even though Proton is now privately owned by Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary, who bought Khazanah Nasional’s stake in the company several years ago.