Malaysia should venture into an industry where it has a comparative advantage when considering a third national car project, according to Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz. The former Bank Negara governor said the limited availability of resources meant the government should be certain of this advantage when it comes to setting up a new national car project.

During a panel discussion on “The Economic Agenda – Mahathir-nomics 2.0 and Vision 2020 Revisited” at the Youth Economic Forum 2018, Zeti, who is also a member of the Council of Eminent Persons, said, “we should channel resources to areas where we have a comparative advantage, where we have the leading edge to venture into the frontiers of that industry.”

She added that the government must address the issue of debt accumulation and areas of inefficiency and leakages in order to remedy the country’s financial situation. She also urged the government to look at the risk factors because there were no resources to bail out failed projects. “That’s why this has to be thought through carefully,” said Zeti.

When asked why South Korea could successfully build their car industry while Malaysia couldn’t, Zeti said Korea had identified a strategic direction for doing this. “They took care of every aspect of it, from having it located in certain places to preparing the workforce in terms of the education system, which started from the school and technical level and universities,” she said, adding that the country’s integrated approach helped produce a successful outcome.

Meanwhile, Khazanah Nasional Bhd director Dr Sukhdave Singh said that if the third national car becomes a reality, it should be done on one condition – those who propose the project must put their own money into it. “There must be no government subsidies and no large-scale injection of taxpayers’ money. If a third car project is commercially viable, [and] private money goes into it, what is the problem?” he noted.

More recently, deputy minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), Dr Ong Kian Ming said German carmakers are welcome to submit proposals for Malaysia’s new national car project. So far, it’s unclear if the agency has received any proposals from these automakers, but an announcement will be made in the future.

While some people, such as Malaysia Automotive Institute (MAI) CEO Datuk Madani Sahari are excited about the new ambitious venture (read his personal opinion, here), not all Malaysians are convinced that a new national car project will bode well, something that prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself is fully aware of. Which side of the divide do you belong to? Sound off, below.