When he was first appointed, Proton chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that the national carmaker would switch strategies from making of cheap cars into building better, more competitive cars at a higher price. Two years into his tenure, has he changed his to tone? Not one bit, he told paultan.org.

The former premier said that Malaysians needed to adjust their expectations, instead of expecting to be able to buy good quality cars at a cheap price.

“When we started Proton, the cost of making a car was only RM14,000, we could sell it at a very cheap price,” he said. “But today a car is a very complex mechanism. We have to put together 4,000 parts. And each part has to be of the right quality, it has to be put in the proper way, people will have to be trained and paid more. All kinds of costs go up.”

Mahathir added that Proton models were already cheap enough as is, pointing out that the Suprima S is priced around RM40,000 less expensive than the next comparable C-segment model. “The reason, of course, is that we manufacture in this country, and the cost of labour is still comparatively lower in this country as compared to Germany, Japan, even Korea,” he said.

When asked about what Proton could do to improve the Iriz’ disappointing sales, Mahathir said, “There are many ways of doing it – we can downgrade it to be so as to be the same level as our best-selling competitor, but we hesitate to do that. Our car is superior to the more popular same-sized car, for example.

“People buy those cars because they are cheap, and I believe their quality is good also. But ours is a different car, slightly more expensive but not too expensive,” he added.

Mahathir said that Proton offers the Saga for people who want a cheap, good car, but the Iriz is a better car. “There are so many features that we put into the car, which of course cost a little bit of money,” he said. “We can de-spec the car, take out all those things, and sell it as a cheap car. Well, that is a matter of policy, whether we just want to sell cheap cars, or we want to have cars that are comparable to the best.”

He also talked about issues with its vendors who do not provide parts which are up to standard. “We need to bring in foreign vendors to work with our vendors, to upgrade them. Because they have built good quality parts before, but the car is not the same quality now, it is higher, they have to come up with us,” he said.

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