THE Naza Group will help Proton Holdings Bhd boost exports and launch new models if it wins a bid to take over the struggling national carmaker, its chief said.
The local auto group, led by Tan Sri SM Nasimuddin SM Amin, recently made its bid on the premise that Proton should continue to be controlled by Malaysian interests.
"I think a local (company) must lead and choose the foreign partner (for Proton)," he told Business Times in an interview. "Naza can work with everybody."
"When I saw that they were looking for a foreign partner, I said why don't we buy? We're going into the same direction," said the 52-year-old auto magnate.
Nasimuddin said he was ready to draw on his over 30 years of successful involvement in the auto business - from used cars to the current creation of new models - to be a fitting and effective stakeholder in Proton.
"(Proton) needs the entrepreneurial drive," he said, adding that Naza could help develop more snazzy Proton models from existing platforms used by the national carmaker.
Naza makes its own cars, assembles foreign and rebadged vehicles and exports some models.
It wants to buy all of the Government's shares, worth RM1.6 billion at the current price, and rope in a foreign partner to help.
Nasimuddin declined to say how much was offered for the Proton block, but said Naza is willing to pay "a bit of premium" over the current market price.
He is even prepared to delay the initial public offering, slated for this year for his group, if it succeeds in getting control of Proton.
Naza is competing with DRB- HICOM Bhd, a contract assembler of Mercedes Benz and importer of Chevrolet, and the Mofaz Group, which also imports cars.
The Government is in talks with Germany's Volkswagen, France's Peugeot and US firm General Motors for a partnership with Proton.
However, the Government has not indicated clearly if a Malaysian or foreign company will be preferred to control Proton.
Nasimuddin stressed that the group's core business would be its edge against rivals DRB-HICOM and Mofaz. DRB-HICOM is involved in banking, property and waste management, among others, while Mofaz is diversifying into consumer goods like energy drinks.
"Our business is only cars. 90 per cent is in the car business. For 30 over years we're in the same line," he said.
Naza also has its own assembly plant in Gurun, Kedah, and is expanding production facilities with another RM1 billion plant that is under construction in Bertam, Penang.
Naza assembles cars under agreements with South Korea's Kia Motors Corp and France's Peugeot and it also imports luxury cars under the Ferrari brand.
Nasimuddin, who first started selling cars in a showroom in Cheras three decades ago, now has a company that manufactures its own cars.
Naza has a tenth of Malaysia's RM50 billion car market, the biggest in South-East Asia.
The group now is on its way to selling its cars abroad in a big way. It is also building a plant in southern India.
Naza could help Proton make and sell cars in India. Proton's old models like the Iswara and Wira could be produced and sold in car hungry and populous India, Nasimuddin said.
Similarly, Indonesia is also another big and attractive market, he added.
Naza would also ensure that Proton improves the quality of its products as well as its after-sales services.
"We benchmark against the world's best," he said. "We are waiting for the Government's decision."