GE14: Between a rock and a hard place

In 1997, a Honda City 1.5 was priced at around RM75,000. The buying experience included ridiculous ‘standard’ accessories that were forced upon the buyer and many months of not knowing when your car will be delivered, or if you’ll ever get the colour that you chose. There would be no discounts whatsoever, in fact, some even paid a ‘premium’ to reduce the waiting period. That was the price for not choosing a Proton.

Today, you can buy a Honda City 1.5 for almost the same price (RM75,930). Adjusted for inflation (based on an average of 2.5% over the last 20 years), RM75,000 of 1997 is equivalent to RM122,000. Since the competition is so vibrant these days, a new car is typically transacted below its recommended retail price. On current promotions (look it up on Honda Malaysia’s website), you can save RM6,000 on a 2017-made Honda City.

Honda Malaysia recently announced a sales record of 109,511 units for 2017  – the most number of cars ever sold by a non-National brand over a calendar year, further cementing its position as the second best-selling brand after Perodua.

A ‘new Proton’ if the pact wins

Now, it’s okay if you don’t recall how life was under an iron-fisted autocratic rule that spanned 22 years. It’s fine if you don’t mind the litany of bail outs, scandals and the erosion of the rule of law that came out of that – BMF, BNM Forex losses, Bakun Dam, Perwaja Steel, PKFZ, MAS; the sacking of the Lord President, Operation Lalang, the bullying of the press, the flagrant use of ISA to incarcerate dissenters and political opponents, the persecution of Anwar, etc.

I guess you wouldn’t have felt a thing when hapless Malaysians were mocked for being ‘unpatriotic’ if they didn’t keep on buying Protons, or when foreign car brands were accused of turning Malaysia into a ‘dumping ground’ without any basis whatsoever. But for those who think that the coming general elections hadn’t been turned into a referendum, you would be utterly naïve.

GE14 will go down in history as handbags on a national scale. Should the next-of-kin of politicians be toting a Bugatti or Birkin? It has become deeply personal and fast degenerating into a contest of insults when elections should be about issues that matter.

As someone who covers the automotive industry, I would be in denial if I’m not concerned about the expressed desire to start a new Proton if the opposition pact emerges on top, especially when the 93-year-old is the PM-designate. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out the implications if anti-competition policies are imposed once again (read the first paragraph of this article), or the impact on businesses which had invested in this country based on the liberalisation of Malaysia’s automotive policies in recent years.

Today, more than 90% of the all passenger cars produced in Malaysia are either made or assembled locally, with varying degree of locally manufactured components that qualify for tax incentives, which in turn translates into more competitive car prices. Honda Malaysia wouldn’t have ascended into this leading position if not for their quick and decisive action in leveraging on policies that drive investments in local production. Rival UMW Toyota have since followed suit and will have a brand new factory by 2019. Mercedes-Benz Malaysia is the premium segment leader for the third consecutive year on the back of having 77% of all the cars it sold locally assembled.

Aside from Proton and Perodua, brands such Mazda, Volvo, Subaru are now exporting cars out of Malaysia, with BMW to follow suit within this year. And while Proton’s market share has receded, they are by all accounts in a better shape to stand on their own two feet and compete on a far more level playing field. Things can only look up for them.

Between a rock and a hard place

Let bygones be bygones, you say. We should all learn to forgive, no point dwelling on the past. After all, it was others who did those deeds, never ever Dr. M. Maybe that is good enough for some in lieu of better choices. One thing is certain: choosing to start a new Proton won’t be an option for me.