The response from the public over the topic may be cool, but the subject of a third national car – as envisioned by prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – continues to run, and the latest talk is that the project may get underway by 2020, Bernama reports.

According to entrepreneur development minister Mohd Redzuan Yusof, the government believes that the move can revitalise the country’s automotive industry, a sector which contributed 4% to the country’s gross domestic product in 2017.

““We (will) attempt to revive and grow the industry due to its tremendous potential. Besides, auto component manufacturing is also one of the sectors that drives small and medium enterprises (SMEs),” he told reporters at an event over the weekend.

“In the past, we tried to grow the automotive industry by creating our own car, but obviously, we need to work on the timeline. This had put a lot of challenges that we see today where Proton has been compromised,” he said, adding that the government would refine and improve from “what and where went wrong” (in Proton).

In June, Mahathir had mooted the aspiration to start another national car project during his visit to the 24th Nikkei Conference in Japan. It has since been subject of intense public debate, particularly on social media platforms, with many saying that the money involved for such a start-up would be better put to use on other projects such as the development of public transport.

Speaking about the matter, Malaysian Automotive Association (MAA) president Datuk Aishah Ahmad was quoted as saying that “Malaysia doesn’t need another national car, seeing as the automotive industry of the country is currently thriving. Also, on its economy of scale, the market for national cars is considered small.”

The prime minister however said that having a new national car project would help Malaysia boost its engineering capability. “We need to revive them because the whole idea about investing in a national car is not just about building a national car, it’s about becoming a catalyst for growing the Malaysian engineering capability,” he said in June.

A project of such magnitude would also need careful deliberation. Last month, distinguished economist Professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram (a member of the Malaysian Council of Eminent Persons) said that starting the project would require thorough and proper consideration, especially if it were to be seen as a move to ramp up the Malaysian industrial sector.