Proton chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has reiterated the importance for the national carmaker to return to the international market, in order to boost its volume. The former premier told that the company cannot rely solely on the domestic market, as it is small – with an annual total industry volume (TIV) of under 700,000 units – and shared with many other carmakers, including Perodua.

As before, he listed market restrictions and protectionism as being the biggest hurdles preventing Proton from exporting its cars, and that the company has to conform to the standards and regulations of those countries.

“The export market is a very important market,” he said. “In the United Kingdom, for example, we were able to export over 25,000 cars – that’s big. But now that the standards have changed, we cannot export even a single car.”

Mahathir added that ASEAN markets are also protective, and impose certain conditions for entry, particularly in terms of duties and taxes. He said that the company has to compete with foreign cars who have set up manufacturing facilities in ASEAN countries and therefore benefit from lower tax and duty rates.

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The Proton Exora and Preve have been exported to Chile since earlier this year

“Now we have to rethink, we have to assemble or produce some parts of the car in the country itself. So we have, for example, gone to Bangladesh – not a very big automotive market, but we had to learn how to produce parts of the car in the country,” he said.

Mahathir also said that the company is also looking to enter the Chinese market, but “the condition is that everything must be sourced in China.” He also talked about Thailand, which has now enforced stricter regulations that have restricted Proton from entering the market.

He said that the company is learning that different countries have different requirements, and that it has to solve the problems for each country, as the ASEAN market is very important. He gives the example of Indonesia, which sells over a million cars a year. “If we neglect these ASEAN markets, of course, we are going to lose out,” he said.

“We are going to go there, but to make our cars acceptable for their country, we have to know what they want,” he said. “So we have to study each market, find out what is it that they want, and reduce our costs through local manufacturing.”

Watch the video above to see the full interview with Proton chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.