Li Shufu, the man who dared to buy Proton

 |May 25, 2017
File pic credit Proton.

(News commentary by Mikhail Raj Abdullah)

Chinese entrepreneur and founder of Geely Automobile, Li Shufu, is the man who dared to buy loss-making national car maker Proton.

After years of dwindling sales and financial losses, it is hoped that finally now, Shufu is the man who would work his ‘magic’ in reviving Proton as he did with prestigious Swedish auto maker Volvo.

Given his proven track record in turning round loss-making auto companies, the Malaysian government and Proton’s parent company DRB-Hicom are confident he will herald a new era of growth for Proton.

Yesterday, DRB-Hicom signed an agreement with China-based Zhejiang Geely Holdings Group LtdĀ  for the Chinese car group to acquire 49.9 per cent in the national car maker.

Under the deal, Proton would also dispose its entire stake in British sports carmaker Lotus for 100 million pounds (RM1=RM5.57), a move that will enable Proton to cut its losses.

As Geely’s owner, Shufu owns 100 per cent of Volvo, yet many might not be aware that the owner hails from China.

Shufu is rare among today’s many Chinese entrepreneurs for taking on auto manufacturing as it is a sector dominated by state enterprises and multinationals.

He founded Geely in 1986 to build refrigerators and became an automaker in 1997 when he wanted to produce a cheap car for the masses.

Geely Group now has reached 1.3 million car sales in the financial year 2016.

And, Shufu is now reportedly worth a staggering US$7 billion.

As an entrepreneur-owner, his almost 50 per cent ownership is a major plus point which Proton would derive from the partnership.

This is because Geely is a “entrepreneur driven” auto company and one of the few left in the world as opposed to car firms owned by state enterprises and multinationals.

As an entrepreneur-owner, there would undoubtedly be a greater sense of personal commitment to ensure that Proton achieves success at the domestic, regional and possibly global levels.

No wonder he is sometimes referred to as the ‘Henry Ford of China.’

Before he bought Volvo in 2010, the Swedish car maker owned by Ford then was on the brink of extinction.

He also owns the iconic London taxi Company.

With Geely’s expertise, one can expect new Proton models, transfer of technology, more jobs, auto engineers and bigger orders for parts vendors.

The partnership can also help ramp up production capacity of its under-utilised Tanjung Malim plant to its full annual capacity.

The Chinese firm’s acquisition of Proton nicely fits into its plans to make its presence felt in South-east Asia for which it has been on the lookout for a manufacturing plant in the region.

Investor sentiment on Geely has been immensely favourable with its share price on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange having risen from HKD3.77 in 2014 to HKD11.50 as of May 22, 2017.

Only time will tell whether Proton would emerge as a formidable automative player again.

Nevertheless, with Shufu and Geely providing solid backing, our very own and much-loved Proton brand now has a real chance of making a comeback, and probably a huge comeback at that. – Bernama