MANY Malaysians have expressed reservations about the Third National Car project and have urged the government to focus on improving public transport, connectivity and ensuring smooth traffic flow.
Rafizi Ramli and lawmaker Nurul Izzah Anwar have both spoken out on the need to reconsider the car project.
Discussions have touched on past promises to remove excise duty, reduce costs and the idea to include Indonesia to build an “Asean” car.
For me, it's a question of cost and resources. First, what will such a project cost this government and the government-linked corporations?
If the new national car is to be established right after or during the abolishment of toll charges in stages, where does the government see the potential income to make up for lost revenue and kickstart the project?
Second, the cost to consumers. The average urban household has an estimated RM6,000 monthly from salaries to spend on everything from groceries, their homes, and hopefully their insurance plans and savings.
Do we want to add on the need for a car, petrol, car insurance, maintenance and toll charges to the mix, or can we add it to whatever savings they have at the end of the month?
Now, let us move on to resources part of the discussion – it will be a petrol, diesel or gas-driven car. We are a net importer of petrol; thus putting the government at risk of increased spending on the finite resource due to subsidies, which is again another expense on the government on top of wanting to build the car.
In fact, how much has the government spent on maintaining petrol prices for the past three months?
If we are going into electric vehicles, feel free to get in touch with the need to buy into rare earth to develop the batteries.
Another limited resource we need to talk about is land. Do we want to pave more land for roads, highways and parking lots? We do not have enough parking space in towns and cities.
It has been observed that building more roads eventually causes more traffic congestion.
More traffic jams lead to more carbon emissions; and more roads and parking lots means lowering the means to balancing those emissions if we do not replant trees and create new green areas to replace the cleared land.
Of course, a lot of time is wasted in traffic jams and contributes to various costs.
To those romanticising about Proton, I have to say it was not always a success. The carmaker took a dip when it took the front of a Wira, glued it to a hatchback and called it a “new model” targeting the dusty dunes of Australia.
Proton was also reported to have had problems with its parts suppliers, leading to what some believe was a reduction in quality which affected its sales. Remember the “failing power windows” claim.
Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Ong Kian Ming is correct in saying we need a new National Automotive Policy that looks beyond electric and energy-efficient vehicles.
There is a need to define an energy-efficient vehicle in terms of kilometres per litre of petrol with a traffic light system. This was proposed ages ago by the UK Nudge Unit (Behavioural Insights Team) to the United States, but it didn't fully take.
Ong also points out the need to venture into electronics, the internet of things and adopt a more holistic approach.
If we are to continue building cars, the technology will have to include cameras on all sides to help drivers park safely, side sensors, automatic anti-collision braking sensors and even Bluetooth to connect devices to a computerised console.
Some models even come with built-in vacuum cleaners.
It's time to look beyond the national car and focus on improving public transport and how to fill up trains. Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad said ridership on public transport was only 20%.
This is good because it would mean endless potential in pushing people to use trains and trains with a RM100 public transport monthly pass proposed by Transport Minister Anthony Loke, rather than getting them to buy a car.
Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: email@example.com