Everyone has an opinion about Proton, whether he or she is a “car person” or not. As a national carmaker, Proton is a subject of national interest, and rightly so, as policies set by the government with Proton in mind impact all car buyers. Of course, the grants and loans from the government to the carmaker are from the taxpayer.

The Malaysian auto market has never been so open, and Proton has had to fight with not just market leader Perodua but the entry-level models of foreign makes. Without the economies of scale on a global basis, even a leader in a small market will have its hands full fending off the giants, never mind Proton. The carmaker has long lost its status as the default choice of the rakyat, who have turned to Daihatsu-backed Perodua.

Proton is now at a low ebb. In 2016, the DRB-Hicom-owned company sold just 72,290 units (a 29.2% drop from 2015) to surrender second place in the sales league to on-form Honda. Sales of 70k units will not be enough to sustain the company, which last year received a RM1.5 billion loan from the government to settle debts. That loan came with conditions, and one of it was for Proton to find a foreign partner.

Two parties are now bidding to be Proton’s “foreign strategic partner” – France’s PSA Group (maker of Peugeot and Citroen) and China’s Geely, owner of Volvo. According to DRB-Hicom, the decision on Proton’s partner will be announced by the end of the first half of 2017, but that has not stopped almost daily speculation and “updates” on the progress, both by the press and government officials.

There are two ongoing debates. The expected one is whether Proton should be sold to a foreign party, bearing in mind that no suitor would be happy with exchanging tech and funds for a minority stake, with no firm hand on the tiller. Broadly speaking, on one camp is the “national pride” brigade, and on the other side are those calling for an end to the expensive crutch. What’s there to be proud of, they ask, comparing P1 to the likes of Hyundai.

To add spice to the situation is the sub-debate – if Proton were to be sold, should it go to the French or the Chinese? Never mind that Volvo has thrived under Geely ownership (with solid financial backing and undiminished Swedish R&D/design, the latest models are rather desirable) and Indian ownership of Jaguar Land Rover has propelled the British brands to record sales – Malaysia is a proud nation that does not always view the matter objectively. In today’s climate, Geely’s origins go against it in the matter of public opinion.

But what does the founder of Proton think of the company’s current situation? Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad typed his thoughts on the matter in his Chedet blog, which is pasted below. It doesn’t surprise anyone that he’s against foreign ownership – we would expect no less from the former PM and Proton chairman. Below are his views, verbatim.

1. I am sad that Proton is to be sold to foreign companies. Having a strategic partner is ok. But once Proton is sold to foreigners it will cease to be a national car. It will just be producing foreign cars in Malaysia. That is something we have been doing since the 1970s.

2. Proton may not be profitable now. But it was very profitable before. Admittedly it was because it was protected. But even after protection ceased it was profitable. All countries protect their automotive industry. It may not be through high import duties. But there are other ways of preventing imports from challenging locally made cars. These other ways are actually much more effective and can result in excluding foreign-makes completely. That is why Proton cannot be exported to these countries. We are very generous. Anybody can export their cars to this country. Sub-standard cars too can be imported.

3. I am out of Proton now. Since then I have not been allowed to even meet or speak or phone Proton staff.

4. That is alright.

5. My fear is that if we do not own Proton anymore the Malaysian automotive industry will suffer a great loss.

6. The vendors and suppliers of components will close shop. Lots of workers will lose their jobs. And Malaysia’s engineering capacity will be reduced. It will not be a developed country in 2020 or later. Malaysia will remain a third world developing country.

7. Once upon a time Malaysia was called an Asian Tiger. Today Malaysia is not even a pussycat. We have become one of the ten most corrupt countries in the world.

Syabas! Najib.

What are your thoughts on the matter? As paultan.org is an automotive website, please keep the talk to Proton and its foreign suitors. Tun M could not resist point number seven and that sarcastic pat on the back, but let’s leave politics out of this – there are plenty of other places for rock throwing of that sort.