Monopolistic Competition. It’s a contradiction in terms, but it really does exist in the world of economics. A monopoly is when you have no competition – something that got Microsoft into trouble sometime back – so how can monopolistic competition exist? While many may argue the facts or fictions about MC, I sensed it happening right here recently, thanks to our first national carmaker, and its latest incarnation, the P3-21A or Prevé.
The media were privy to a preview of the Prevé (I’ve been wanting to use that little gem of an arrangement since the name was announced) some weeks ago. F or the record the name is pronounced ‘pree-vay’. It comes from the word ‘preve’ which means ‘to prove’ or ‘to envision’ in Spanish. Proton, under the leadership of Dato Syed Zainal is out to prove a point with the Prevé, and if first-impressions are anything to go by the car is off to a good start. 1,000 bookings (sight-unseen) aside, perhaps for the first time in its 27-year history, Proton have a car on its hands that buyers just may want to buy.
What do I mean by that? Glad you asked. In its chequered past, Proton, for want of a better expression, produced ‘cheap’ cars, and by this I mean the cars were not just cheap in a monetary sense, they felt cheap. The more ‘local’ they became (for example more local content from local vendors) the worse they got. I remember my first car was a 1.3 Saga Megavalve, one of the first few that rolled-off the line. And as everyone knows, typically the first-batch of cars are little more than a re-badge, which means most of the components, if not the whole car is pretty much CBU.
My next car after that Saga (it served me well util I decided to park it upside down in a monsoon drain near Batu Tiga) was an Iswara 1.5, which I thought would be an upgrade. It wasn’t. By this time car had amassed a host of local suppliers for its various components and after just a few hours in my new car I was sick of it. I remember the mats made of thin rubber as opposed to carpet, the wing-mirrors made of cheap plastic with seam lines still visible. I soon realised my dead-in-the-ditch Saga Megavalve was a much better put together car.
The last major move that Proton made prior to the Prevé was to launch the Inspira, a rebadged Mitsubishi Lancer. Many thought this signalled the end of Proton as a car manufacturer; it had come full-circle. Then along came the Prevé. Loosely based on the Tuah concept car previewed at the KL Motorshow, the Prevé is a radical departure from cars we’ve come to know, expect and not like very much, from Proton. And here’s where the term ‘monopolistic competition’ comes in. I strongly feel the Prevé is fighting for market share within the stable of cars it comes from.
In terms of size the Prevé is not that much smaller than an Inspira, nor is it much bigger than a Persona and yet price-wise it’s very close to both. A paltry RM10k separates it from either car at both ends of the pricing spectrum, and amortised over a typical hire-purchase loan period that’s pennies. So theoretically, because all three cars are so similar, the Prevé is battling its siblings for a share of the pie. During the media preview, Syed Zainal even mentioned that the Prevé is Proton’s ‘global car’ and as such it has to meet and exceed expectations not just at home but abroad too. Exports to UK, Thailand, Philippines, Dubai, Australia and other countries begin later this year.
Can it win a piece of the pie? Malaysian Evo got to pore over the car during the media preview and in all fairness Proton has done a very good job with this car. On paper the specs look decent, and price-wise there’s no faulting that either. Repeated assurances about better components (power windows that still work after six months for example) and a renewed effort to produce a car that people want to buy and not just have to buy because that’s all they can afford, seems to have paid off. Only time and a proper test drive will reveal if this has happened with the Prevé. I for one am anxious to find out.