The calendar says that we’re less than two weeks away from the end of the year, but seriously, where did the year go? While 2019 felt like it just zoomed past at breakneck speed, on hindsight, much happened – both in Malaysia and the automotive industry.

Here at, we’re going to compile the highlights of the automotive industry from this year, as well as our prediction of what to expect next year in this series of “2019 year in review and what’s to come in 2020” posts. Each brand will be covered, in groupings. We kick off with the national scene, which has of late regained prominence versus the non-nationals.

While the resurgence of Proton – powered by Geely – played a significant part in this, perennial market leader Perodua isn’t sitting on its comfy perch at the top shaking legs. If anything, P2 has been working harder than ever, and the sales table is proof of this. With new and improved Protons now in the market, are people buying less Peroduas? No, and once again the tables show.

Five years ago, non-national makes had greater share of the Malaysian car market

Assuming that Malaysia’s total industry volume remains at the same level, both P1 and P2 have grown at the expense of non-national brands, a reverse of what happened a few years back. Proton has now regained the number two spot from Honda, and from the way things look, it should remain like that in the immediate future, despite the upstart’s (strange to call Proton an upstart, but the rejuvenated company feels like one) vow to be number one in Malaysia and number three in ASEAN.

What’s beyond doubt is that this space is heating up, and trust me, Perodua won’t take this lying down – expect them to fight back, and fight hard. You might not hear as much from the folks in Rawang, but when there’s news, it’s usually big.

This year has also seen talk about other homegrown cars besides the two names above – one’s the new national car project and another is the much-mocked “flying car” – we also discuss them here, after the real cars of course.

Perodua talks little, sells a lot

The perfect example of the difference in approach between Perodua and Proton was on display three days into the new year. While most were still suffering from a year-end holiday hangover, P2 opened order books for the Aruz, and the official launch came less than two weeks after that. No extended teaser campaign and months of collecting orders, it was all done by mid-January, leaving plenty of the calendar year for sales and deliveries.

The Aruz, which is the top car in Google’s ‘Year in Search’ 2019, breaks new ground for Perodua. Topping out at RM77,900, the seven-seater SUV (in reality, it’s an SUV-skinned MPV), is Perodua’s most expensive car in recent times (the short-lived CBU Nautica being the only exception), and the price point caused some initial trepidation, internally.

On hindsight, they needn’t have worried, as many Malaysians (by the way, Malaysia is more than just the Klang Valley) see good value in the Aruz, which is also P2’s largest car to date. Size aside, the Aruz is handsome (relatively, for this type of car, see BR-V) and safe, with a five-star ASEAN NCAP rating and the inclusion of Advanced Safety Assist (ASA) 2.0, continuing the safety-focused trend that started with the Myvi.

P2’s flexing continued later in the month, when the company announced that it had chalked up all-time record sales in 2018. The 227,243 units they shifted last year was a 10.9% year-on-year jump. Of course, the unprecedented “tax holiday” gave the final tally a boost, but bear in mind that Sg Choh – already at full bore – couldn’t make enough cars to sell in the zero GST window.

The strong sales carried into Q1 2019, which at 82,700 units, was the highest ever quarterly results in the company’s history – 9.5% jump year-on-year, market share above 43%, flying. On results, Perodua managed 121,800 units by mid year (+4% y-o-y, 41.1% market share), leading it raise the full year sales target by 4,000 units to 235,000. It’s not often that we hear of companies raising sales targets.

Perodua tends to spread out its bullets, so to speak, and after the Aruz roll out, there wasn’t much going on, product wise. They introduced a 50-unit Bezza Limited Edition and GearUp accessories for the Aruz in April. Exports to the Seychelles was announced in June (a new market for P2), while the Malaysian-designed Myvi went abroad to Singapore and Mauritius. Later in the year, Perodua started shipping the Axia to Sri Lanka.

The next big thing for the brand was the revamp of its smallest car. The Axia facelift was was opened for booking in August and officially launched a month later. More than a regular facelift, this second refresh for the entry hatchback (the first facelift was in January 2017) introduced new kit and even an all-new variant.

Priced from RM24,090 (still Malaysia’s cheapest car), the Axia gains VSC and ASA 2.0 further up in the range, solidifying P2’s newfound rep as a champion of safety in the entry level. These also help differentiate the Axia from its chief price rival, the Proton Saga, which boasts a bigger body and engine. The new SUV-inspired Axia Style also breathes some fresh air into the range – the Volkswagen CrossPolo-style variant looks rather convincing.

After the Axia FL, we expected no more from Perodua for 2019, but boy were we wrong. In October, the company was caught testing a strange-looking “Toyota Avanza” up Genting Highlands, together with Indonesian Low MPV rivals Mitsubishi Xpander and Suzuki Ertiga. We’re guessing that it’s a development mule of a “new Alza” to replace today’s JDM-based car, which has been around in current form since 2009.

That rare sighting was quickly followed by another test mule; this one looking even more suspicious. Also piling the Genting route, the mule was wearing Axia skin, but the car’s much larger proportions betrayed its disguise. The upcoming D55L B-segment SUV perhaps?

Which leads us to the recent 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, where we were ambushed by the presence of an unnamed but production-ready compact SUV at Daihatsu’s stand. Later revealed to be the Daihatsu Rocky, the crossover – which sits on the Daihatsu New Global Architecture (DNGA) platform and is powered by a 1.0 litre turbo engine – is set to be the base for the upcoming Perodua D55L SUV, which could well surface towards the end of 2020. Here’s what P2 CEO Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad had to say on the new SUV.

If it arrives with all the good stuff intact, P2’s new SUV will be the company’s most sophisticated offering, and it has been awhile since we got a Perodua with direct links to a car sold in Japan (Daihatsu’s parent company also sells the Rocky as the Toyota Raize in Japan). Malaysians were involved in the design of the Rocky-Raize-D55L, so it’s a collaborative effort.

The Bezza, which was launched in mid-2016, is due a facelift, and it’s coming very, very soon. And perhaps a special edition or new variant of the Myvi to keep the third-gen’s momentum going?

No new Alza, you ask? Perodua has said that it is capable of introducing one full model change (all-new model) and one minor model change (facelift) per year, and that “quota” for 2020 will be filled with the Bezza FL and likely the D55L SUV. That happened this year with the new Aruz and Axia facelift. Our bet is that the new D27A Alza will be coming in 2021 instead.

Lastly, Perodua freed up some space in its factories by outsourcing parts production for old models to a vendor. It invested in a hydraulic press stamping machine that will make body panels for the first-gen Myvi, Viva, Kelisa and even the Kancil, which by the way, celebrated its 25th birthday in August.

A bustling, bumper year for Proton, with PIES galore

What a year it has been for Proton. They’re probably exhausted at Shah Alam and Tanjung Malim now, from CEO Li Chunrong to the factory workers, but there’s no rest for the weary. The rejuvenated Proton – powered by Geely – has set itself lofty targets: to be top of the pile in Malaysia and number three in ASEAN long term, nothing less. The immediate target is 100,000 units in 2020.

But before we look ahead, let’s recap the year that was 2019. This is the first full year of sales for the Proton X70, which was launched in December 2018 after what felt like a never ending teaser/preview campaign. All doubts should be long gone now – if you’re in the Klang Valley, that handsome SUV is everywhere you look.

Content, a plush interior and keen pricing are strong points of the X70, which will continue in 2020 as a locally assembled model rolling out of an extension of Proton’s Tanjung Malim plant, which cost RM1.2 billion to set up. The start of production ceremony happened last week, and the launch should be just around the corner now.

Expect the same outlook (it won’t be the China-market Boyue Pro facelift) and 1.8 litre turbo engine for the CKD X70, but with some revised kit (look out for a powered tailgate and possibly a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to replace the current 6AT).

The X70 is a hit with the more affluent, and a marker for the new direction of the brand (going upmarket), but the bulk of sales is still from the more affordable “original Protons”. Remarkably, each one of those models – the Persona, Iriz, Exora and Saga, dubbed PIES – received a refresh in 2019. That’s four facelifts in a year!

The first images of the Iriz and Persona facelifts were out in February, and we got to try the B-segment duo shortly after. The revamped cars were launched on April 23 with added equipment and significant price reductions – up to RM4.1k for Iriz, up to RM5k for Persona – which started a trend that we would later see with the Exora and Saga. With this facelift, the hatchback and sedan have even more distinct designs – one’s now more overtly sporty and the other, classier.

The next of the PIES to be refreshed was the long-serving Exora. Unlike the Iriz/Persona, the seven-seater MPV didn’t get a facelift; it was more of a running change with an update in equipment and decrease in price (RM2.5k in RRP, before other incentives). Interestingly, Proton did not only choose to continue offering the Exora, but invested in a new centre stack for the model, which houses a GKUI head unit with “Hi Proton” voice command and 4G internet.

By far the most important model to receive a 2019 facelift was the Saga, unveiled in August. By now, we were fully expecting Proton’s latest design cues (Infinite Weave grille, clean rear end with Proton script), new kit (LED DRLs, “floating” touchscreen head unit, redesigned meter panel), perceived quality touches (better fabric, spring loaded grab handles) and lower pricing (by up to RM2k), but they went further and swapped the CVT for a four-speed automatic gearbox. The Hyundai-sourced unit is more in line with market expectations on how a basic car should drive, and is a good move.

The facelifted Saga has made immediate impact, contributing 70% to the company’s overall sales. Since its launch in August, the sedan has recorded more than 35,000 bookings, and sales have breached the 4,000 unit mark for three consecutive months. With the X70 contributing 19%, the numbers generated by the two models represent nearly 90% of total sales.

Speaking of total sales, Proton’s year-to-date sales for the first 10 months of the year is 79,423 units, putting it firmly in second ahead of Honda’s 71,489 units (Perodua leads with 201,562 units). Barring a big upset, P1 should be back in P2 when 2019 closes, wrestling back the spot from Honda to make it a national 1-2 once again. For perspective, the October 2018 YTD chart read Perodua 187,731 units in first, Honda 87,161 units in second, Toyota 57,406 units in third, and Proton 54,326 in fourth. Also, Proton is expected to return to profitability this year.

Cars and sales aside, in September, Proton revealed a new corporate identity comprising a new logo and a new tagline – Inspiring Connections. The new emblem features a redesigned tiger head that has been “uncaged”. There’s no more shield, and the logo is now circular. The CKD X70 will be the first model to wear this new badge next year.

Other newsworthy events included the announcement of a new Proton factory in Pakistan, which will begin operations by the end of 2020; the introduction of the X70 in Brunei; the continuation of the Proton 1-Tank Adventure (now nationwide); and the recent 1-2 finish at the Sepang 1000KM race.

What should we expect from Proton in 2020? What’s certain is the CKD X70 reaching showrooms in the first quarter. Word is that the much-anticipated smaller sibling to the X70, the “Proton X50” based on the Geely Binyue, will surface sometime in Q3 2020 – we’ll see.

Should it debut next year, there will be the inevitable hype of the big 2020 battle between the “Perodua Rocky and Proton X50” but in truth, both SUVs differ in size and positioning. The Rocky is smaller than the Binyue in both dimensions and engine capacity, and the Perodua version will surely undercut the X50 in RRP as well.

Proton CEO Li Chunrong says that Proton is now competing with Toyota and Honda in quality, not Perodua, so the X50 is expected to show a good example of perceived quality in the B-segment. Interesting times ahead!

Now who’s this interloper called DreamEdge?

There has been much chatter about a “third national car” or new national car project (NNCP) since Pakatan Harapan came into power, fuelled by none other than the PM himself. On August 9, the government named the anchor company for the NNCP – DreamEdge, a Malaysian digital engineering services and consultancy company based in Cyberjaya.

The announcement event, held at DreamEdge’s HQ, yielded scant firm details for the media in attendance. All we got from minister of international trade and industry Datuk Darell Leiking and DreamEdge CEO Khairil Adri Adnan was that the debut model will be a “plus-sized B-segment sedan”, powered by either a regular internal combustion petrol engine or a hybrid powertrain. Tech support will be from Daihatsu Japan (purely as a supplier, no equity involved) and the car will be built via contract manufacturing.

We were also given timelines. The engineering capability model mock-up was to be shown at the end of August. Mid-September would have been the start of additional recruitment for the project, and the company said it would show the first model prototype of the new national car in March 2020, with the final product set to make its market debut in March 2021.

The mock-up showing never happened, and we’ve heard nothing about the NNCP until last week, when Affin Hwang Investment Bank said in a report that investment to develop and manufacture the new national car could reach as high as RM1 billion. DreamEdge is currently in active discussions with several parties on funding, is aiming to sell at least 3,000 cars a month in the first year of sales, or 36,000 units a year, the report adds.

Also, there’s been a revision to the timeline. DreamEdge told the bank that a working prototype of the car is on track for release by mid-2020, with full production set to take place by the first half of 2022. This means another year has been added to the project’s original timeline. DreamEdge stated to Affin Hwang that its car would not be a rebadged Daihatsu. Just who is this DreamEdge? More on the company here.

Do we really need another national car? That’s debatable. The government’s position is that something like the NNCP will spur innovation and boost Malaysian participation in science, engineering and technology adoption. Fine, as long as you and me don’t end up carrying the can with our tax money or additional protectionist taxes.

What the flying car?

Lastly, a car that’s not quite a car as we know cars to be. The “flying car” has dominated headlines over the past year, a term popularised by entrepreneur development minister Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof, who has become somewhat synonymous with the vehicle. Perhaps there are other entrepreneurial activities he’s championing, just that they’re under the radar.

Basically a large drone that is capable of carrying humans, the term “flying car” may be technically not wrong, but has let to some confusion, ridicule even. It’s actually a thing now – not just in Malaysia, by the way – but the everyday man is thinking of the flying car as a replacement for his Proton, heading into a sky full of things zooming around, just like in the movies. Hence the ridicule.

That sci-fi scene won’t happen anytime soon. Urban air mobility (UAM) is targeted at businesses and industry – just think of them like helicopters, but with multi blades and a battery. It won’t require fossil fuel, and would be much cheaper to produce than a chopper.

You might have heard about the Vector, a drone-based, point-to-point air mobility solution being developed by Malaysian company Aerodyne Group in collaboration with a Japanese partner.

The Vector will reportedly be powered by four motors and a lithium-ion battery. Weighing in at 600 kg, and with a payload capacity of up to 200 kg, the vehicle is capable of flying about 50 metres above ground level at 60 km/h, and will offer from 30 up to 90 minutes of flight time.

More recently, Mohd Redzuan made public a flying car test run, which was subsequently denied permission to fly by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM). Thought to be the Vector, it turned out that the UAM in question was the EHang 216 passenger drone, made by China’s Beijing Yi-Hang Creation Science & Technology Co.

The EHang 216 is a passenger drone with eight arms, each mounting two electric motors that are connected to propellers, making for 16 rotors in all. The 360 kg unit features an aero-cab structure capable of accomodating two passengers, with payload rated at 260 kg. Performance figures include a cruising speed of 130 km/h and a flight range of around 35 km.

News reports mention that the project, which will see the EHang 216 being introduced here as the Super Dron, is a joint venture between local company EastCap and two Chinese companies, EHang Intelligent Equipment (Guangzhou) and Strong Rich Holdings. The strategic partnership is set to handle the marketing, operation and maintenance of the Super Dron in the country. EastCap, which was reported to have an agreed sale of 1,000 units of the Super Dron to Indonesia, has plans to build an assembly factory in Malaysia with a capacity of 10,000 units a year.

Remember the time when Wawasan 2020 was created? Bet you never imagined then that in 2020 Malaysia would be dabbling in flying cars!

This post is one of several in our multi-part “2019 year in review and what’s to come in 2020” series, which covers a variety of major brands, albeit in different groupings. You can check out our earlier posts focusing on other brands as listed below: