Another battlefront is developing between Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary and Tan Sri SM Nasimuddin SM Amin in the wake of their tussle for a stake in ailing national carmaker, Proton Holdings Bhd.
Nasimuddin-controlled Naza group will now make its case to a Cabinet Committee in a week's time on its plans for Proton after DRB-Hicom Bhd, which is now controlled by Syed Mokhtar, had formally presented its bid recently.
"We are doing a presentation to the Cabinet Committee on Jan 4," Nasimuddin told reporters on dec 27 after receiving the Korean government’s Presidential award from South Korea Ambassador to Malaysia, Son Sang-Ha, in Kuala Lumpur.
Nasimuddin was given the award in recognition of his contribution to the partnership in the automotive sector between South Korea and Malaysia and to the promotion of bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries.
Early last year after a lengthy tussle involving the duo, Syed Mokhtar emerged the winner when he became the single largest shareholder in DRB-Hicom with a 15.7% stake, for which he paid RM3.60 per share.
Nasimuddin had led a consortium that offered RM3.50 per share cash for DRB-Hicom.
In the bid for Proton, DRB-Hicom had recently made a firm proposal to the Cabinet Committee, which is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, to acquire a 32.9% stake in Proton.
Asked by the FinancialDaily on how Naza group would fund the acquisition of Proton and what it had to offer the ailing national car company, Nasimuddin said: “We will reveal all details of our plans after briefing the Cabinet Committee on Jan 4.”
DRB-Hicom and the Naza group are seen as the frontrunners for the Proton stake, while other local players such Sime Darby Bhd and Mofaz group could be the dark horse in the race.
While analysts and observers are of the opinion that the local players will not have much to offer to Proton, the emerging scenario is that one local player will have to partner a foreign carmaker towards resuscitating the national project.
The Malaysian automotive industry, particularly in the passenger car market, is the largest in Southeast Asia.
Speculation has been rife that the government has identified Volkswagen AG of Germany as the likely foreign candidate to help boost Proton's flagging fortunes.
Nasimuddin on Dec 27 declined to be drawn into revealing anything of Naza's plans for Proton.
To a question, he said there was no issue of a conflict of brands between Proton and Naza’s stable of cars, explaining that there were also other players with different marques in the automotive industry.
On what role Naza would play in Proton, or more specifically what stake Naza would take up in the national carmaker, Nasimuddin reiterated that the details would only be made known after the meeting with the Cabinet Committee.
The Edge Weekly reported on Dec 18 that Naza planned to acquire Khazanah Nasional Bhd’s entire 42% block at a slight premium to current market price.
Naza is reportedly also planning to then use its own strategic relationship with Korea’s Kia Group and French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen to help Proton back to the black.
Meanwhile, on its outlook for next year, Nasimuddin said Naza group maintained its target of selling 50,000 units of vehicles but would strive hard to exceed that figure.
“We will also start exporting our Sutera cars to India, Sri Lanka and Mauritius from January next year. Our initial target is to sell between 5,000 and 6,000 units in the three countries,” he said.
Nasimuddin said the company was keeping its targets conservative, as its Gurun plant was not fully operational as yet.