EVERY Malaysian knows that Proton cars sold in the country are of different quality from the export models due to the requirements in the export market.
Proton cars sold in London will whisk you away with their superior features compared with those sold locally.
It is said that if you want to buy a Proton car that have export specifications, just go to neighbouring Singapore and you will become a proud owner of a European standard car which complies with the highest international specifications.
It is also a well-known fact that Proton cars sold in Malaysia are more expensive than the very same model sold in the UK, which is a third of the price.
Well, those days are coming to an end.
The new Proton management under DRB-HICOM Bhd are working very hard to end that stigma and make sure that every Malaysian in the country owns the very best Proton car.
At a media get-together recently, it was evident that the conglomerate, led by group managing director Datuk Seri Mohd Khamil Jamil, was working very hard to turn around the national carmaker so that it can reclaim its top spot which was taken over by Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd seven years ago.
Mohd Khamil remained tight-lipped on how he plans to reinvigorate Proton but hinted at efforts to roll out high quality models.
He also acknowledged that Proton is missing in some segments of the car classes - the A class and the compact category.
"Proton is working very hard to win back the hearts and minds of the people. We are beefing up quality, bringing down cost and improving the delivery system," he said.
Proton, without a doubt, has what it takes to be a full-fledged global car company, thanks to its full support system from conceptualisation to research and development.
At a recent 10,000km endurance test at the Sepang F1 track, the Satria came out tops followed by the Preve, beating other national and foreign car makes.
It is time for Proton to now focus on what customers look for, no matter how small.
At a recent test drive to Johor Baru, for example, I didn't have to reset the radio channel on the Preve when I crossed Malacca and Johor.
I'm not a car expert but I understand that the Ford Focus has a feature which assists in side parkings and displays SMS messages on the dashboard panel.
Some car owners also gripe over the position of the cupholder.
These details may seem trivial, but it is a big deal for some drivers.
Maybe Proton can take the cue from Volvo which has unveiled cars that are designed by women with women in mind.
And look at Kia and Hyundai, which were nowhere 10 years ago.
Now the South Korean companies, which hire Italian and German designers, export about five million to six million cars worldwide compared with Proton's 20,000 a year.
Proton, together with its engineering guru Lotus, can become great once again through innovation, and stand out from the competition.
It is heartening to note that Proton will also spearhead an Asean car.
It's time to look at Proton with pride as it puts the brakes on "troublesome power windows" and "tin Milo" bodies.