The new national car project (NNCP) pushed by prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad could source parts from ASEAN neighbours, as the region forges stronger ties to weather out the US-China trade war. The NNCP has attracted interest from neighbouring countries, minister of international trade and industry Darell Leiking told Bloomberg.

“What Mahathir meant was that he needed something where Malaysians can get together, ASEAN can get together, to supply components of this vehicle and make it into a national car in ASEAN, not only in Malaysia. It’s ambitious but I think that it’s necessary now, more so when you want to create an economic bloc like ASEAN,” he said.

The 10-country group of Southeast Asian nations has benefited from the US-China trade fallout as companies shift orders and move production bases to the region. It was the top destination among the one-third of more than 430 American companies in China that considered moving operations elsewhere, according to a survey by AmCham China and AmCham Shanghai, Bloomberg points out.

Leikeng also said that the government is gathering views from the industry on developing the new car brand, and will let the project be driven and funded by the private sector. The government’s role will be to assist in licensing and facilitation.

The NNCP will not be a rival to existing national car companies Proton and market leader Perodua, which at present are focused mainly on the domestic market. “Proton has already achieved what they’ve wanted and they’re there. So this is not competing with Proton, this is not competing even with Perodua, this is not competing with anyone. This is a separate thing altogether,” the minister said in the interview.

So, let’s piece together the info that we have so far from official government sources. Today, we hear that the NNCP will try to get ASEAN participation and “ownership” (not by equity, Malaysia surely won’t allow that) in the project, which will not compete with Proton and Perodua. Begs the question – who and/or what will the NNCP compete with then?

Yesterday, MAI CEO Datuk Madani Sahari said that two NNCP proposals have been received by MITI, which will continue to accept proposals until October 15. When asked about how realistic the NNCP timelines are, he said that the dates – model name to be revealed by end of 2018, prototype out early next year, roll out in 2020 – are just MIGHT’s estimates.

The timeline was announced last week by entrepreneur development minister Mohd Redzuan Yusof at a briefing by MIGHT. Who is MIGHT? The Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology, which is under the purview of the PM’s department, has been appointed to communicate the various facets of the project. It will also coordinate the NNCP with various government ministries, agencies and the industry. We presume that this includes MITI, which MAI falls under.

Besides the ambitious-sounding timeline, MIGHT’s briefing also revealed that the new national car is expected to feature semi-autonomous capabilities and advanced safety features, while remaining affordable.

A couple of names were dropped. “We are now shortlisting two to three partners to participate in this project, including SilTerra and CTRM, and expect things to be concluded by year-end,” Mohd Redzuan said.

SilTerra is a Malaysian semiconductor manufacturer based in Kulim, while Composites Technology Research Malaysia (CTRM) manufactures composites components primarily for aeronautical structures, although it is now moving into other fields such as manufacturing composite components for light rail transit and automotive applications.

Are you getting a clear picture? Let’s hope that the various government arms involved in the NNCP are on the same page, and more clarity can be had soon.