Proton lucky to have Geely as partner, says KL minister

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad

IPOH • Malaysian carmaker Proton's planned partnership with Chinese counterpart Zheijiang Geely Automotive is timely as cars are predicted to be the next in line to undergo the biggest form of innovation after mobile phones.

Second Minister for International Trade and Industry Ong Ka Chuan said that in the light of Industrial Revolution 4.0, Malaysia was fortunate to have Geely in as Proton's strategic partner to ensure the national carmaker's survival should cars become fully electronic in the future, reported news site The Star yesterday.

Industrial Revolution 4.0, or Industry 4.0, is the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies.

It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things and cloud computing.

"After attending the Hannover Messe - the world's biggest trade fair for industrial technology - they talked about fully electronic cars that come equipped with an autopilot function," said Datuk Seri Ong.

He added that this could mean a future where cars came without steering wheels. "With just the touch of a panel, the car will bring you to your destination. Next year, Volvo will be launching its first full-autopilot vehicle and it is currently undergoing a year-long test run," he told a press conference in Ipoh, Perak, yesterday.

MAHATHIR'S COMPARISON

It will be like Singapore. Malaysians are proud of this great city-state. If it had not been sold it would be, perhaps, as well developed as Kuala Kedah or Kuala Perlis. Then we cannot be proud of Singapore.

FORMER MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER MAHATHIR MOHAMAD

Mr Ong said this is why Geely will be Proton's partner in adapting to new technological innovations in the carmaking industry.

Geely Group announced last Wednesday that it will buy 49.9 per cent of money-losing Proton and a 51 per cent stake in Lotus Cars from Proton. Geely has a track record of turning around ailing carmakers, after it bought Sweden's Volvo Cars in 2010 and revived its fortunes in the face of scepticism from the industry.

"I'm not saying to expect Proton to be a front-liner in this, but at least with a strategic partner, they can work and move along with the times," said Mr Ong.

Proton, the brainchild of Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, was formed over three decades ago as part of the country's industrialisation drive.

Since then, it has suffered dwindling sales and financial losses, requiring billions in ringgit of taxpayers' money to keep it afloat.

However, Tun Dr Mahathir has lamented the Geely-Proton deal in his blog, comparing it to selling the country's assets to foreigners.

"Proton can no longer be national... I am sure Proton will do well. It will be a commercial success. It will be sold all over the world. The Proton name will be everywhere. It will be like Singapore. Malaysians are proud of this great city-state. If it had not been sold it would be, perhaps, as well developed as Kuala Kedah or Kuala Perlis. Then we cannot be proud of Singapore," he wrote.

"Now we can be proud of Proton. With money and superior technology it will compete with Rolls- Royce and Bentley.

"But I cannot be proud of its success. I cannot be proud of the success of something that does not belong to me or my country."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'Proton lucky to have Geely as partner, says KL minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe