Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mahathir, you are so wrong about Proton

Mahathir is proud of Proton’s best model to date, the Suprima S, but my unit came with the rattling at no extra charge.

By Eddie Hoo

Proton Holdings chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad says the only problem facing Proton was public perception, which was not reflective of the national carmaker’s quality or performance. Before I take apart this statement by the good doctor, I must say I know how it feels to drive a Proton as I have owned three different models in the last 14 years.

My first Proton was a new 1.5A Wira with full specifications. It served me well as I made countless long-distance trips in it with my family.

There were just two complaints — the power window didn’t work after a few months and it was under-powered for automatic transmission. The gear ratio could have better and the pick-up wasn’t good enough.

I traded in the Wira for a Waja 1.6M after five years. The salesman who handled the transaction was driving an old Volvo. I asked him: “Bang, apa pasal you tak guna kereta Proton?” He smiled without answering.

In my first drive, I realised that I paid good money for a new car that had so much wind noise. The first thing to go after two months was the power window and I had been driving into Singapore through the Woodsland Immigration checkpoint regularly at one point.

I had to make sure that I get to an immigration booth on my left as the driver’s side window didn’t work.

Since it was always bumper-to-bumper queue at the checkpoint, I didn’t have the luxury of choosing which booth to drive to. The window stayed down for the rest of the trip over the causeway until I parked the car somewhere in Singapore to force it up again by hand.

After a few attempts to fix it at the Proton service centre, I took it to a workshop outside. I was advised to replace the whole mechanism and that was money I didn’t have.

The engine started developing problem in its sixth year and a mechanic suggested an overhaul. My driveway started to stain with oil leak, which was unacceptable for a six-year-old car. Overhaul the engine of car that new?

Exasperated with the never-ending problems, I shopped around for a new car. You would think that I would be wiser than to buy another Proton? Almost all car dealers, including some from Proton, told me car fuel consumption isn’t one of the national car’s strong points.

Stupid me, I opted for a top-end turbo-charged Suprima S with all the bells and whistles after reading rave reviews about it by local and foreign motoring experts. It was said to be the best car ever made in Malaysia, and I believe that is the case when it comes to handling, pick-up, safety features, and to a certain extent, the interior and the ergonomics.

In two months, the engine rattled. I was told that the engine mounts, which are rubber blocks that hold the engine in place, had burned out. I didn’t have to pay for the replacement as it was under warranty, but I had to cough out some money for the service.

On top of that, my confidence in this new purchase had been shaken. The Suprima Infotainment System started to give problem after just three months. The Bluetooth stopped working and the radio didn’t come on when prompted.

It was back to the service centre and I was told that they had to rip out the whole infotainment system and send it to Penang for repair as it couldn’t be done in Kuala Lumpur. That would mean me driving around with a hole in my dashboard for more than a month.

The parking assist siren beeped continuously and drove me nuts. That was easily solved as Proton put it in new parts for me. It still feels like I have a ghost radio in the car as it will play by itself.

The GPS system is horrendous. When I keyed in the Swiss-Garden Beach Resort Damai Laut in Lumut, it navigated me to the jetty for Pangkor. I emailed Proton on how to update the navigation system, but have yet to receive a reply after a year and a half.

When Honda launched its HRV, I went to the showroom to enquire about a trade-in. I had to top up a thousand ringgit after trading in my slightly over a year-old Suprima. Proton gave huge discounts on the Suprima models and this affected their trade-in value, I was told.

The left front door rattled so much that I stuffed a towel in the side compartment. It was only after a third attempt by the service centre did the rattling stop. Earlier the front part of the car was making some funny noises and no one could tell what was causing them.

Only when the headlamp fused did I solve this problem. A mechanic, who replaced the bulb, told me that the whole unit was loose and wasn’t screwed in properly. What really got screwed well was me, the Proton owner.

So Tun, it isn’t just a case of misconception. The staffers at the service centre are really courteous, but they are not on top of their game. Quality control is the biggest problem with Proton as it allows cars that don’t meet the required standards to leave its plants.

“People will see a Malaysian car and assume it cannot be good as a Japanese car,” Mahathir said. “Believe me, we produce good cars now.”

Believe me you, my 14 years of driving different models of Proton cars tell me otherwise. 

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