‘My child is lost’: Mahathir bemoans sale of Proton to Chinese

Chinese automaker Geely has agreed to buy a 49.9 per cent stake in Malaysian manufacturer Proton, in a deal aimed at reviving the loss-making company

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 7:14pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 7:14pm

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday that he “cried” over the sale of one-time national car company Proton Holdings Berhad to Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holdings Group Co.

“They say Proton is my brainchild. Now the child of my brain has been sold. Yes, I am sad. I can cry. But the deed is done. Proton can no longer be national. No national car now,” he wrote in his widely followed blog.

Proton, Southeast Asia’s only full-fledged car manufacturer, was established by Mahathir in 1983, a year after he assumed the premiership. He saw it as a catalyst to promote industrialization in an economy that heavily relied on commodities.

Right from the start, Mahathir took a very hands-on approach in Proton’s operation.

When he retired in 2003, he was made an adviser and then chairman of the company, a position he held until March last year.

Proton, which was privatised in 2012, saw its sales continue to dip and the company is bleeding financially, requiring several government interventions. On Wednesday, conglomerate DRB-Hicom Berhad, which owned 100 per cent of Proton, agreed to sell 49.9 per cent of its stake to Geely.

Mahathir, 91, however not only bemoaned the decision but also accused the government of selling out the country.

“It is probably the beginning of the great sellout. The process is inexorable. No other way can we earn the billions to pay our debts. The only way is to sell our assets. And eventually we will lose our country, a great country no doubt, but owned by others,” he wrote.

Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad on why he’s not ‘anti-China’

Mahathir has been vocal about the recent flow of Chinese investment into the country that was being championed by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak as a mark of confidence in the country’s economy.

“I am a sissy. I cry even if Malaysians are dry-eyed. My child is lost. And soon my country. Please excuse me,” he wrote.

International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed, however, defended the sale to Geely.

“Geely has a proven track record and is one of the top Chinese automotive companies. For example, its sales in China grew by 50 per cent last year to 766,000 vehicles. Its acquisition of Volvo in 2010 has been a success. Volvo recorded sales of 540,000 vehicles last year, an increase of over 200,000 units sold in 2009 prior to its acquisition,” he said in a statement.

The deal, he said, would allow Proton access to existing markets of the Chinese carmaker, especially in China as well as right-hand drive markets in Southeast Asia. It would also allow Proton to tap into Geely’s technology and R&D facilities, including a range of platforms and powertrains.

Moreover, Mustapa said, with the joint venture, Proton can now optimise its two production plants, which have a combined capacity of 380,000 units. In the last few years, Proton has only been operating at 40 per cent of its full capacity.

He said the deal could also boost Proton’s exports. The carmaker only exported 301 units last year. In the past Proton used to export 20,000 units annually.

“With this partnership, it is hoped Proton’s exports will pick up once again and allow it to achieve economies of scale,” Mustapa said.