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01 Sep 2008 | Text and photos by Amery Reuben
The Saga continues
No pun intended, really, because some of you Civic and Corolla chugging Singaporeans might not realize this - Proton's Saga might probably be THE most crucial, important and anticipated car in Malaysian automotive history.
It never had much to offer - a basic 1.3 or 1.5-litre engine, five-speed manual with the option of a three-speed automatic, a rough, noisy ride and great instability above 100km/h. However, it was still very, very cheap and because it sold so well, it became the motoring identity of Malaysia.
It brought mass vehicle ownership to everyone's doorstep, even if they lived in a wooden atap hut somewhere in the forest. This was important, considering the geographical size of Malaysia, and the general lack of public transport that went along with it - something most Singaporeans take for granted even till this day.
Such was the phenomenon then, that you could almost say something like "you're Malaysian, so you must drive a Proton!" and get away with it.
Fast forward to the turn of the 21st century, and things weren't looking too rosy for this national carmaker. Despite their acquisition of British performance carmaker Lotus, government funds and national protectionism meant a lack of innovation amidst increasing car prices. Other locally produced cars licensed from brands such Kia (Naza Sutera, Bestari, etc.) and Daihatsu (Perodua Kancil, Myvi, Kembara and so on) effectively took the lead in sales.
The hammer finally fell not too long ago, when the Malaysian government announced it's withdrawal of funding and protection. This meant that prices had to rise, and Proton was a hundred per cent susceptible to the rigours of competition.
Hence, the significance of the new Proton Saga - this Malaysian icon has no other choice but to return to the fundamentals of what it once was as a Malaysian carmaker. It has to cough up a car that the majority of Malaysians need, and not want - a budget-priced, economical sedan with no frills and spills.