As you read this, an old friend of mine is probably packing. Who knows, he could already be in the air. He was Volkswagen’s boots on the ground in Malaysia, the many times VW wanted to get its boots on the ground in Malaysia. Last time they tried in 2007, they disrupted Dirk’s retirement and sent him to Kuala Lumpur, where dealers of fake watches greeted him as the old friend he was by that time. German media says, Volkswagen did not give up and they are trying again.
Volkswagen is said to be talking (again) to Malaysia’s Proton, owned by Malaysian automotive and property conglomerate DRB-HICOM. Now is a good time to buy. Lotus, owned by Proton, has burned through all of a loan facility made available. DRB-Hicom pumped another $300 million into Lotus this year and is looking at pumping more. The departure of the flamboyant, but unimportant Dany Bahar from the flamboyant, but unimportant Lotus made bigger headlines than the fact that this is yet another supercar pipedream going up in smoke, but that’s the way it is. Three days ago, it was reported that Proton rejected an offer of one British pound for Lotus. That’s how much the brand is worth now.
Proton, a brainchild of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, was supposed to propel Malaysia as much into the future as its electronics industry. It did not happen. Mitsubishi pulled out a few years ago. Lotus, the maker of lightweight sports cars, was no replacement for a heavyweight international partner. Proton only survived, more or less, due to protectionist laws in Malaysia. In the meantime, Malays begin to rebel against high priced low tech cars. The ASEAN Free Trade Agreement exposes Proton to the increasingly rough winds of competition.
Volkswagen probably would not mind adding yet another brand to its growing collection, especially when it means that they can invest the very important South East Asian market with Volkswagen’s bread and butter cars. Volkswagen already contracted Proton for CKD production of the Passat. Jetta and Polo are planned to follow, says Reuters. Germany’s Manager Magazin said last week that Volkswagen could be interested yet again in Proton. Today, two inside sources told Reuters that Volkswagen might “seek either a minority holding in the owner of UK sports-car manufacturer Lotus or a controlling stake.”
I tried calling my friend in Germany, but nobody is picking up.