Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is threatening restrictions on imported vehicles to boost sales of local brands.
The recently re-elected prime minister tells the House of Parliament the previous administration allowed too many foreign vehicles to enter freely.
“All cars, even those that are made out of ‘Milo tin’ are being allowed into Malaysia, but our cars are finding it hard to penetrate many other countries,” the 93-year-old Mahathir says.
Milo tin is a Malaysian term to describe unsafe or cheaply made vehicles. It originated in the 1950s when cars often were repaired with recycled Milo (a chocolate and malt powder) tins instead of genuine parts.
Mahathir says the imports have stunted the growth of the local automotive market, while national automakers such as Proton have found it difficult to penetrate other countries due to their own restrictions.
“There are a number of factors that had made it difficult for Proton to penetrate the foreign market, which includes strict terms, conditions and policies that have been set by other developed countries,” he says.
“That is why we must review the possibility that certain conditions be imposed so that foreign-branded cars won’t make it to our shores that easily. And this will give the opportunity for our local cars to enter into our automotive market.”
Malaysian Automotive Assn. President Aishah Ahmad, in a statement quoted by the government’s Bernama news agency, says Mahathir’s threat to limit the access of foreign cars is a regressive move for the country’s automotive industry.
“I don’t think it's right for the government to say that they want to stop all cars other than Proton to be brought into the country,” she says.
Aishah says if the local automotive industry is to grow, the government must create a conducive environment through liberalization as seen in Thailand and Indonesia.
“Thailand is exporting more than 1.3 million cars a year and Indonesia more than 100,000 vehicles,” she says. “What is Malaysia exporting? Twenty thousand to thirty thousand units a year.”
Mahathir says the government is still studying the new National Automotive Policy, which could include restrictions on importing cars by overseas manufacturers. He told the Parliament the government still supports global free trade, and any limitation would create a level playing field for national automakers.
“This government will help Proton and the industry,” he says.