Why did Suzuki, Jeep and these 8 brands say "Bye bye Malaysia"?

CY Foong · Oct 24, 2020 11:00 AM

Looking at our WapCar car list, we have 35 car brands in Malaysia. Other sites might have posted more but even so, that’s quite a lot. Yet, there are some complaints that we have so few brands being represented here.

Sometimes, there's no choice...

To be honest, the Malaysian automotive market is pretty small in comparison to some of our neighbours. There’s also the fact that it might be difficult to convince Malaysian buyers to buy something different from the norm.

It doesn’t matter if the brand has a cool car in its line-up, that still doesn’t guarantee that people will flock to showrooms and get one.

Maybe there are a few exceptions before owners realized how problematic they turned out to be but here are ten car brands that were once sold in Malaysia. Let’s begin with a favourite at the office.

Suzuki

Okay, so this might be returning under either Naza or Berjaya but the Japanese brand had been through some ups and downs in Malaysia before it left the market in 2016.

Why did it leave?

Just like Mitsubishi 35 years ago, Proton was the cause. Suzuki and Proton both signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2015, halting all future sales of Suzuki models in Malaysia.

The result of this also saw Suzuki’s 29 dealers being converted to Proton Edar showrooms and the first and only product out of this partnership, the Proton Ertiga.

Then, Proton was taken over by Geely 2 years later and Suzuki’s Malaysian fate lied in limbo.

Any chance for its return?

Yes. Suzuki is a cult favourite among Malaysians. We watched in envy as some of our neighbouring countries get to enjoy such cool models like the Swift, the Ignis, and especially the Jimny.

Interested to get the ZC21 Swift? We gotchu fam!

No doubt whichever company successfully brings in the Japanese carmaker might see decent success. I know I’ll be looking forward to their comeback.

Jeep

Jeep is one of those storied brands that attain legendary status with most of their models. The American SUV brand was in the Malaysian market a couple of times in the 1990s and around the 2010s but both ended in failure.

Why did it leave?

For Jeep’s first exit in the 1990s, it was due to the Asian Financial Crisis which also affected Malaysia. Because of this, Malaysia saw unfavourable forex rates which meant that the Jeep would be expensive to own and maintain.

As for its second exit it was down to poor sales. Jeep returned to the Malaysian market in 2014 under DRB-HICOM with quite a fanfare and a four-model line-up. However, they were pretty exorbitant in pricing with the cheapest being the Compass at around RM 249,000.

Jeep quietly made its second exit from the Malaysian market after around 3 years.

Any chance for its return?

Uhh…this is a bit complicated. According to some media reports early this year, Jeep is available in Malaysia and are sold by TAHB Automotive which is a recon dealer. Their website even calls themselves as Jeep Specialists rather than an official distributor.

Granted there are recon Jeep models which are available in the grey market so for now, Jeep’s Malaysian presence is in a (literal) grey area.

Ssangyong

Once the darling of wealthy Malaysians with exquisite taste for the extremely gaudy and unreliable, Ssangyong’s early success in the 2000s remains a mystery to some of us. With models like the Stavic and Rexton selling well, we wonder whether these buyers need to get their eyes checked?

Why did it leave?

Well, it seems like Ssangyong’s bread and butter must be ugly cars because right after Ssangyong updated them with less queasy-looking models, sales started to dip.

To make matters worse, the Korean carmaker had been struggling pretty badly and was eventually bought up by Indian giant Mahindra & Mahindra. Ssangyong pulled out from the Malaysian market in 2016 as monthly sales went into single digits.

Another reason would be because the higher-ups at Ssangyong weren’t keen to continue CKD production of their models in Malaysia which affected prices.

Any chance for its return?

Surprisingly, yes. We've previously covered that Bermaz is interested in bringing in at least one European brand and 2 Asian brands into Malaysia. We have speculated that it could be taking over Kia and Peugeot from Naza.

The second Asian brand might be Ssangyong which is distributed by a Bermaz-affiliated company – Ssangyong Berjaya Motor Philippines – for the Filipino market. Thankfully, their current line-up looks much better.

Fiat

Italian brands are quite a mixed bag in Malaysia. On one hand, they have some of the nicest-looking cars but they are hampered by issues of quality control. The latter is still a stigma seen in brands like Fiat.

Why did it leave?

Not many remain on the road (Credit)

Poor sales which were led by poor marketing could be one of the reasons. In the 1990s, Fiats weren’t exactly aggressive in their marketing either but the Punto hatchback reported annual sales of up to 1,000 which was quite decent for a Conti brand back then.

Fast forward to 2009 and Fiat’s sole model, the Bravo barely flew off any remaining showrooms. Fiat’s importer, Torino Motor Industries (M) Sdn Bhd cited the high price for a small hatchback with a 1.4-litre engine could be the cause of poor sales.

Torino Motor closed shop in 2009. During the last 4 years prior to closing down, around 60 Fiats in total were sold in Malaysia.

Any chance for its return?

Looking at Fiat’s current line-up, sadly it’s a no. While the Panda, 124 Spider, and 500 might be interesting choices if they were sold here, the rest of the line-up, unfortunately, lacks pizzazz.

Then there’s also the fact that Fiat wouldn’t probably make it in Malaysia as their models are very Euro-centric. The 500 is chic in Milan, but in Malaysia, it might just be a quirky novelty car.

Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Malaysia out and about (Credit)

Our second Italian entry in this list, Alfa Romeo sees a larger fanbase than Fiat. Those who are well-versed in Top Gear history would cite the boys’ famous quote where you’re only a true petrolhead if you ever owned an Alfa Romeo.

Why did it leave?

Alfa Romeo was distributed by a few distributors but we’ll focus on their last importer, Sime Darby Motors. In 2005, Sime Darby was very keen on expanding the Alfa Romeo brand in Malaysia, mimicking the glory days of the 1970s when Alfas were highly sought after in Malaysia.

However, Alfa Romeo’s national expansion hit a snag due to the high prices on its fully-imported (CBU) lineup. Alfa Romeo never stood a chance especially when its rivals like BMW and Mercedes-Benz offer more affordable prices.

Sime Darby decided not to assemble Alfa Romeos in Malaysia because it had targeted only 800 units sold at the time. Needless to say, those sales targets weren’t even achieved after 8 years as Sime Darby decided to let the Milanese icon go in 2013.

Any chance for its return?

Most of you would probably still choose the 3 Series over this

Probably not. Alfa Romeo has a very old-school reputation and a very niche target audience. The Giulia sedan is an attractive-looking sports sedan but some things probably never changed as proven by the American Car and Driver’s long-term loaner.

Granted, Alfa Romeo still has a very strong fanbase here in Malaysia who are waiting for its return to Malaysia. Even if it does, would you be interested in buying a Toenail Tonale?

Mahindra

Goa's finest...set of wheels

The star of those crazy physics-defying Bollywood stunts, Mahindra wasn’t just a brand that focused on tough-as-nails SUVs and off-roaders. It’s one of the largest and most well-known Indian automotive brands with Ssangyong and famed Italian design house Pininfarina under its belt.

Why did it leave?

Mahindra had a very brief appearance around the mid-2000s with the Scorpio. Although this might be an easy shoo-in for our list of Malaysia's worst-selling cars, we decided to leave it out since we have spotted more Scorpios than the Haval.

It was distributed by DRB-HICOM and was fully imported from India. Had it been built as a CKD model with Proton being one of those rumoured partners, the Scorpio would cost way less than its starting price of RM 89,900.

Paying big bucks for a tough Indian-made SUV didn’t make sense especially when the interior quality feels like one of those cheap Chinese Hilux knock-offs. DRB-HICOM then said goodbye to one Indian brand in the early 2010s and hello to another (Tata Motors) towards the end of the decade.

Any chance for its return?

As cool as the all-new Mahindra Thar looked like in pictures, the little Jeep Wrangler with a hint of masala would be a ‘masalah’ in attracting buyers. It doesn’t help that most of the models in their line-up would not suit with Malaysians as they are mostly designed for the Indian market.

Maybe the XUV 500 crossover might pose a threat for the hotly-contested SUV C-segment but whether Malaysians would stomach the looks is something else. We love Indian food but Indian cars might take some more time.

Opel

They were even used as taxis too (Credit)

If Malaysians love Volkswagen, could they give Opel a second chance? The closest German competitor to the People's Car was a darling in rally events and a favourite among middle-class Malaysians in the 1970s.

Why did it leave?

Opel was last represented in Malaysia by Europel. At first, the brand had decent sales in the 1990s but as more buyers favoured Malaysian, Japanese and more established European brands, Opel wasn’t able to claw back to the sales charts.

Opel was General Motor’s only representative in Malaysia at the time as the Chevrolet brand had yet to enter the market. There were a few successful Opel models like the Zafira MPV and the Frontera SUV which was a rebadged Isuzu MU Wizard.

Sadly, Opel couldn’t catch up with rivals and left the market in 2003.

Any chance for its return?

Highly unlikely. Opel is currently under PSA Peugeot Citroen Stellantis and while Peugeot maintains in keeping Malaysia as its ASEAN hub, there has been nothing said on whether Opel will be utilising these plants in the future.

The only market where Opel is still being sold in South East Asia is Singapore. As Europe would be the largest market for Opel, it probably wouldn’t be likely for Opel to return back to Malaysia.

Chevrolet

Expectation...

Malaysians were excited to see the American bowtie finally making its way into the local market in 2003 as we look forward to epic models like the Camaro, Corvette, and Silverado.

Why did it leave?

...reality

Instead, we got a bunch of rebadged Korean Daewoos. Chevy’s first entry into Malaysia was handled by DRB-HICOM with a lineup that included the Optra, Aveo, Lumina, and Nabira. The last 2 models were a rebadged Holden and Opel respectively. Sales were pretty lacklustre and DRB-HICOM eventually gave up the distribution rights in 2010.

Not long after, General Motors (GM) saw a new partner in Naza. The Chevrolet brand was represented by Naza Quest and this new venture was kickstarted by the attractively-priced Cruze which started below RM 100,000.

However, Chevy’s second foray in the Malaysian market also ended miserably with the American brand exiting for the second time in November 2018. Though it promised to find a new partner and 'remained committed to Malaysia' it has been nearly 2 years since.

Any chance for its return?

Nope. GM has been winding down most of its global operations by exiting most markets, closing down factories, selling some of its brands, and even closing them indefinitely (RIP Holden).

One of those factories and markets it was leaving was Thailand. In February, GM announced that it was selling its plant in Rayong to Great Wall Motors. The Chinese carmaker had also taken over its Indian plant in Talegaon.

With them pulling out of the Thai market, that meant we won’t be expecting the American bowtie to come back for the third time very soon. However, that doesn't mean that GM might not return to Malaysia as Wuling might enter the market through Tan Chong.

Skoda

The Czech carmaker has a very tumultuous history but its recent models under the ownership of the Volkswagen Group saw them rise as a force to be reckoned with.

Why did it leave?

Skoda was in the Malaysian market a few times. In the eighties and early nineties, they mostly flew under the radar with models like the Favorit which was unfavourable, to say the least.

Then in the early 2000s, Skoda was distributed by AutoPraha, a subsidiary of the Berjaya Group. This was followed by the launching of a few models like the Octavia, Fabia, and Superb. Surprisingly, few of these models can still be spotted on the road today.

Things got a little quiet until 2010 when Skoda relaunched itself with the Octavia vRS and the Superb. Both models got praises from the automotive media but sadly that didn’t translate to sales because technically Skoda was very unrepresented.

Skoda shared a showroom with Mazda at the Bermaz Glenmarie showroom and had little advertising. Needless to say, the Czech brand was given the checkmate as they left the Malaysian market not long after.

Any chance for its return?

This is a Volkswagen Tiguan underneath

The current Skoda line-up consists of rebadged Volkswagens and in quite a lot of cases, the Czech models often do better than their German counterparts in reliability surveys.

Maybe Skoda could work in Malaysia if they had a better partner that also has facilities to assemble some of their models. A CBU Skoda would definitely cost more than the CKD Volkswagen here even if Skoda is a budget brand overseas.

Then again, the name is a bit unfortunate-sounding as it sounds pretty close to a derogatory word in BM. Still, Skoda did sell a model called the Laura in India and if you’ve watched enough Russel Peters stand-up clips, you’d be laughing at the irony.

Oh, and Skodas are still sold in India.

Lada

Hmm…this brand is currently under the partial ownership of the Renault but those who know their car history would recognise this infamous Soviet Russian brand.

Why did it leave?

Believe it or not, Ladas were sold in Malaysia in the 1990s under Traction Corp (M) Sdn Bhd. Only 1 model was available, the Niva 4x4 and prices were cheap, starting at RM 36,873 for the Niva Deluxe.

Just less than 4 grand more and you could have the POEM Eleksuria. In fact, the closest competitor would be the Suzuki Jimny which started at RM 51,489.

Sadly, not many bought into the Russian-made 4x4 and as such, the novelty of owning a product of a former Communist superpower wore off. Nothing was heard from Traction Corp since.

Any chance for its return?

Lada's current lineup

A resounding no. Lada left many export markets, and most of its models are only focused solely for the Russian and former Soviet Union markets.

Lada’s line-up is now filled with modern cars but the old Niva (now called the 4x4) remains in production today with the last update being introduced in 2019. The Niva has been in production since 1977, which makes it one of the oldest production models ever.

With that, those are ten car brands that used to be available in Malaysia. With MG possibly returning to Malaysia, albeit in a different form, which of these brands do you hope will make a Malaysian comeback?

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