Much have been said about Proton’s potential foreign strategic partners (FSP), even though the national carmaker has till now not named any party directly, and the proposals from its suitors are yet to come in. The latter will happen very soon though, if not already, as the deadline for proposals to be submitted to Proton is February 15, which is this Wednesday.

This was revealed by second finance minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani to Bernama yesterday. “After the closing date, a decision will be made soon after vetting the proposals,” he told reporters, adding that besides companies from China, European ones have also shown keen interest in becoming Proton’s strategic partner. Reports have pinpointed China’s Geely and France’s Groupe PSA as interested parties.

The ball will be in Proton’s court after this Wednesday, and the government does not plan to be an active participant in the selection, as Proton is after all a privately-owned company. Johari said earlier that the government is fine with Proton parent company DRB-Hicom ceding a majority stake to a foreign carmaker. “Going forward, the government should allow the private sector to do business, but won’t itself be involved in it,” he said.

However, DRB-Hicom has maintained that it will continue to hold a significant stake in Proton after the FSP’s entry. “We have stated before that we will maintain a significant equity in Proton, and this has not changed. The FSP search is not about shirking our national responsibility but about enhancing Proton as a bona-fide carmaker, and eventually putting it, and Malaysia, on the global map,” DRB-Hicom group MD Datuk Seri Syed Faisal Albar said in a statement released last week.

He explained that DRB-Hicom will evaluate three key criteria – which are the strategic, operational and cultural fit – in finding the right FSP. A strategic fit will enable both parties to derive tangible benefits from the range of technology and products available, which will ensure that Proton can achieve economies of scale from its domestic operations.

An operational fit with the FSP ensures that both Proton and the partner will complement each other’s strengths, while a cultural fit will ensure a successful union. This “chemistry” between the two parties will be critical in pushing Proton forward while enhancing the FSP’s own operations vis-à-vis its short and long-term plans.

Another factor in the evaluation will be the intention of the potential partner in utilising the current “home-grown” vendor network. “This is a very significant element in our evaluation, as DRB-Hicom, which also owns subsidiaries serving Proton as vendors, will avoid having the home-grown network being diluted substantially,” Syed Faisal added.

With a close fit that matches the items listed, DRB-Hicom said it is confident the venture will be beneficial to all parties. It added that in evaluating a potential partner, DRB-Hicom will insist that the Proton badge and its technology will be expanded into ASEAN markets first and global arena subsequently.

The conglomerate has reiterated that it aims to complete the selection by the first half of this year, although it will strive to conclude the deal earlier.