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Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s appointment as Proton Holdings Bhd chairman will further strengthen the national carmaker, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has said, according to Bernama.

“Although there are many challenges ahead but in the pursuit to improve Proton’s competitiveness, I believe the company would accrue many benefits from his profound experience and knowledge,” the PM told Malaysian reporters at an international conference in Tokyo today.

“I believe Tun’s appointment will certainly strengthen Proton, given his determination and high commitment to see the national car company succeed.”

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When asked if Dr Mahathir’s appointment meant he would have more powers to determine the future direction of Proton, Najib said: “That is up to Proton because it is a public listed company.”

According to The Star, Malaysian Automotive Association president Datuk Aishah Ahmad deemed Dr Mahathir the “ideal man” for the job.

“He (Dr Mahathir) had a vision, that we needed a local car brand. At that time, component part industry was not as thriving as it is now. The establishment of Proton created opportunities,” the English daily quoted her as saying.

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Bernama reported that earlier, during a dialogue session with conference participants, Dr Mahathir said Proton’s production volume was small, and as such, it was difficult for the carmaker to achieve economies of scale.

“The only way (for Proton) is to expand to foreign markets. We don’t want to be like Thailand (which just assembles cars). We want to do more than that. We want to learn from A to Z. Because of this, we have not been able to export (Proton cars) the way the Thais do.

“We are just starting. We used to enjoy 80% market share. Now it’s down to 23%. We tried to compete as best as we could. We hope the government will protect us a little bit from foreign models because they have economies of scale,” Dr Mahathir said.