Frankly Speaking: Not another national car project

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 18, 2018 - June 24, 2018.
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It came as a shock last week when Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad suggested that Malaysia revive plans for another national car project when he was attending the 24th Nikkei Future of Asia Conference in Tokyo.

Initially, some thought it may even have been fake news spread by opponents of the current government in order to discredit it.

But sadly, it was real.

After the many issues at former national automotive company Proton Holdings Bhd, and pouring in billions only to watch the company falter, should we revive such a project?

If anything, we should be wiser now and realise we do not have the population to create the necessary demand. To make cars for export, we would need to have high standards and fight barriers put up by other car-producing countries. After 35 years, the fact that Proton still needs a foreign strategic partner should show how difficult it is to come up with a national car.

It is ironic that the government that plans to set up such a futile venture also set up Tabung Harapan Malaysia for the public to help settle the country’s debts. The fund has now amassed close to RM60 million.

The axing of a slew of infrastructure projects because of the high national debt makes such a venture even more questionable as some of the infrastructure plans, such as MRT3, would provide more benefit.

The government should get its priorities right. It is important to complete the investigations into 1MDB, try to salvage as much of the misappropriated funds as possible, settle our trillion-ringgit debt, and at the same time, keep the economy growing at a healthy pace.

Anything else, including a national car project, should be closely scrutinised.

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