Notes about the New National Car Project

By ahmadzulizwan, 04 October 2018
1

Even the hosts acknowledged that the event was somewhat low-profile. I can confirm that my appearance was as a ‘gate-crasher’, a description some of my peers from other automotive websites who also made time for it can share. I only knew about the press conference for the New National Car Project last night after a tip off a web source.

It was organised by MIGHT or the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology, the same body which was pinpointed by prime minister Tun Mahathir a few weeks ago as having the potential to highlight the important of having this third national car project.

For what it’s worth, ‘it’ now has a new name. Like Prince (and Kanye!), the Third National Car project now wants to be known differently – as the New National Car Project. On the surface it seems like a subtle change, but I suppose their direction is different from what Proton and Perodua has been doing.

At first, I thought that the press conference would explain the whole project in more detail. Later on – and based on the reason for the name change – I expected to learn how the government wants to make the project different from current efforts.

Spoiler alert: Learnt very little. Direct questions were asked, but replies were vague. For sure, every single media representative was glad that such a Q&A was organised, but I can’t help but feel not that many blocks are in place yet. At least not enough to substantially add to what Tun has already mentioned before.

I take a look at my notes and they’re mostly items which have already been revealed:

Why?

The main people in the PC was YB Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof, Minister of Entrepreneur Development (MED), and Datuk Dr. Mohd Yusoff Sulaiman, president & CEO of MIGHT. The raw objective of the New National Car Project (let’s call it NNCP, okay?) is to be another core for national advancement, particularly in heavy industry or advanced technology.

1
YB Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof
1
Datuk Dr. Mohd Yusoff Sulaiman

Vendor, vendors, vendors!

I shudder everytime I hear this word, because these are parties which, for better or worse, have extensive power. But they will also play a big role in this project, being the core financiers and technology providers. Read next.

No government money. Privately funded

The idea is that these ‘investors’ – some local, some foreign – will foot the bill.

So this is where I get confused – how can it be a national car but paid by the private sector? Unless, it has a business model like Perodua which despite its direct link to government-run PNB is still self-reliant.

Estimated cost of the project is not revealed, neither are the ‘two or three’ parties in the short-list to be the main driver of the project. And if the main party that is funding is foreign, how can it be a national car?

Sure, in comparison Proton’s line-up will eventually all be Geely-derived, but it’s still a national car because the latter’s aim was not the brand itself but rather the Tanjung Malim factory and a foothold to the ASEAN market and its trade pact – all for a sensible sum of investment. A new investor for the NNCP will have to start every single thing from scratch.

Just how much money will the project require? Unanswered.

Silterra, CTRM

These are among the local players which were mentioned to potentially be in the project due to their expertise and capabilities. CTRM is Composites Technology Research Malaysia, an established company that supplies to companies such as Airbus and Boeing.

SilTerra is a semiconductor wafer firm which YB Mohd Redzuan and Dr. Mohd Yusoff both say may provide the technological advantage to the project.

Autonomous, hybrid (?)

Powertrain will be advanced and modular but not quite finalised. Autonomous and semi-autonomous feature was mentioned and one of the reasons why a company like SilTerra could provide to be useful. Never mind the fact that producing a part of basic hardware is far from filling it with coding required for self-driving.

When Tun Mahathir first mentioned about this project, he did emphasis about advanced technology so this is not something entirely unexpected. YB Mohd Redzuan also mentioned of the possibility that Cyberjaya could be a great location for testing autonomous driving technology in a city environment.`

2019/2020

That’ll be year of reveal for first prototype, and roll out of a production model. Mega ambitious and aggressive, so much so that it’s close to impossible. If they already had a concrete framework with all the chess pieces ready-to-go, maybe. But as it is now, tough. For an advanced autonomous/semi autonomous car that’ll be safe and competitively priced – impossible.

Others

A small box is on my piece of paper, within it I write one of the most interesting things said in the PC – “We’re starting without baggages, unlike other car companies.” This was said to enhance the point that the timeline is workable, and that the NNCP will not follow industry norms thus it can happen.

All in all, I have to admit that the project could happen anyway. Maybe not within the timeline given, or not at the level of technology they say, but plenty of stuffs can be bulldozed through. As I write this, I try to think of companies which could make this work. For some reason, Gordon Murray comes to mind. His company always works with composites and does nothing but cutting edge stuffs; plus his iStream system is all about modularity. However, he does not play with autonomous tech, as far as I know. Also, his ideas so far are mostly for urban mobility.

I don’t know. Too early to say. Will gate-crash their next press conference, then.