Does Malaysia really need another national car company? Prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad seems to think so – earlier today, during a dialogue at the 24th International Conference on The Future of Asia (Nikkei Conference) in Japan, he said that the country has ambitions to start another national car project, in partnership with countries across the region.

The idea behind this is his belief that a national car company must be Malaysian-owned, something that he thinks Proton is no longer because of its strategic partnership with Geely. It is also borne of the belief that Malaysians have the capacity to do almost 100% of the development of a motor vehicle, something that they should aspire to achieve.

Public opinion on the matter in the hours since the statement have been very much against the idea, with the latent thought being that there is no need for the country to have another such project. Aside from entailing expenditure that Malaysia can ill-afford to have at this point, the very thought of another national car company sounds frivolous, given that there are already two on the scene.

Technically, Proton is still owned by a Malaysian company, which is of course DRB-Hicom. Geely bought a 49.9% stake into Proton, which doesn’t make it the primary shareholder. The idea that national pride is at stake here should be cast aside – for example, Geely has also bought almost 10% of Daimler shares, and is now the biggest single shareholder of Mercedes-Benz’s parent company. Does that make Mercedes any less German? We don’t think so.

Proton, for long languishing despite protectionism, looks to be on the slow road to recovery – new models are coming, and under Geely already has aggressive plans to export to SEA markets, with Malaysia to be made the right-hand drive production hub for this region.

There is also Perodua, a very good example of a local company backed by foreign partners. No longer rebadging cars now, the automaker is dominating the local market, with its latest market share being over 50%. Would a third player be as successful? It could, but it would have to come up with cars that people want, and can afford.

The thing is, Malaysians want affordable cars, whether it be local brands or not. The last thing we want is another round of government protection in terms of competition and taxes. You only have to look at how the scene has shaped up over the past few decades to understand that this is not how the game should be played.

The spin could come from the partnership that has been bandied – in 2015, there were talks of an ASEAN car project between Proton and Indonesia. This could be a natural successor, driven by Mahathir. Electrification is also a possibility, though how viable such a dedicated commerce can be in what is still early days for the format remains questionable.

Ultimately, though, it is all about the question of money, and venturing yet again into the business of car manufacturing is going to need a lot of it. Given that a number of public transport projects have been cancelled (especially MRT3, which would have been beneficial), there’s no denying that austerity is very much the buzzword. A new national car project goes against that grain, and sounds like a very, very poor idea.