A brief history of cars in Malaysia

Did you know that as of 2021, there are more registered vehicles than people in Malaysia? That’s 33.3 million vehicles versus some 32 million people! That explains the Hari Raya traffic… But have you ever wondered how cars become this popular? Let’s dive into a brief history of cars in Malaysia. 

1902: First car in Malaysia 

mercedes simplex 1902
Source: Mercedes Benz

The first car was allegedly a Mercedes Simplex imported into Malaysia by Eu Tong Sen in 1902, a tin baron based in Perak. Many claim that this was the reason why car plates in Perak start with an ‘A’, others say this was because Perak had the highest number of cars at that time (lots of tin tycoons, kaching), and some state that it’s actually representative of its then larger population ahead of Selangor (B) and Pahang (C) at that time. In any case, Perak undoubtedly remains a key cornerstone in the brief history of cars in Malaysia!

1909: Ford places first ad in Malaysia 

This would be the start of an American dominance in Malaysia’s automotive market. By 1911, there were plans to sell at least 60 cars a year. By 1926, Ford had a plant in Singapore (then Malaya) and dominated 80% of car sales in Malaya. In 1964, the Mk1 Ford Cortina was the best selling car

1956: British vehicles eats up market share 

In 1956, Europe led the way for new foreign cars, with British imports accounting for 65% of new vehicle sales in Malaya.

1966: Formation of Malaysian Motor Vehicles Assemblers’ Association

10 automobile firms banded together to establish the Malaysia Motor Vehicle Assemblers’ Association (MVAA). Singapore and Malaysia had been aggressively competing for foreign investment and the group felt that there was a need for a common ground. In 2000, the MVAA merged with Malaya Motor Traders Association to form the Malaysian Automotive Association. 

1968: First locally assembled car rolls off production line 

volvo 144
Source: Volvo

By the late 1950s, there was a strong emphasis for local production and industrialisation. The government had pushed to accelerate industrialisation through the local assembly of foreign automobiles and manufacturing of components. And in November 1968, the Volvo 144 was unveiled.  

1970s-1980s: Welcoming an era of Japanese cars 

Japanese cars initially had a bit of a flak due to anti-Japanese sentiment from the second world war, plus its lightweight frames and lower prices did not help their case. However by 1981, Japanese brands took 6 spots in West Malaysia’s car sales numbers, dominating the top 5 leading spots.  

Read more: 5 most popular Japanese cars in Malaysia

1983: Malaysia births first car manufacturer 

The Heavy Industry Corporation of Malaysia (HICOM) went into a joint venture with then-Japanese powerhouse Mitsubishi to help integrate automotive production. The first Malaysian car, the Proton Saga, was launched a few years later in 1985 and was supported by then Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. 

mahathir saga
Mahathir with a Proton Saga

1993: A new local competitor joins

Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn. Bhd. (Perodua) was established in 1993 in a joint venture with Daihatsu. From 1994, Perodua started to sell a compact car based on Daihatsu’s Mira model. When Perodua entered the market, Proton no longer enjoyed its Gulliver-type oligopoly but both companies have continued to maintain an oligopoly from the early 2000s. 

1998: Biggest percentage dip in car sales 

As a result of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, car sales for 1998 saw a 59.5% dip, with only about 160,000 units being sold. However, recovery was swift and the market saw steady growth in the next 4 years. 

2018: Malaysia’s most expensive car plate

most expensive carplate
Source: The Star

The special car registration number plate was ‘Malaysia 1’, which broke the record for the most expensive bid ever made for a single number – at a beautiful price of RM 1,111,111! 

Read more: How to check what the latest car plate number is

2019-2022:  Coronavirus tailwinds and headwinds

When the pandemic struck, the automotive world was shaken to its core with lockdowns across the globe. As the economy weakened, Malaysians stopped buying cars. This brought about the SST exemption for new car purchases, as a part of the Penjana stimulus package to keep the economy going. Even so, sales of new cars continued to drop due to a bottleneck caused by a microchip shortage (also caused by the pandemic). The SST exemption ended in June 2022, meaning prices of new cars would once again be a little pricier.

2023: A new car joins the national fleet? 

Back in 2018, Dr. Mahathir returned to the position of prime minister and announced the Third National Car Project. A Malaysian company, DreamEDGE, was appointed to be the anchor company of this project. Production is set to begin in 2023, so can we expect it to join the list of popular local car models in Malaysia?

Did you know?

Seven of the top selling cars of 2021 are all Malaysian cars! So if you’re thinking of getting a new ride, it’s time to consider a national car from myTukar this Merdeka month! Plus, we’ll throw in three years of free servicing!

The people can’t be wrong. Here are the most popular rides: 

  1. Perodua Myvi
  2. Perodua Axia
  3. Perodua Bezza
  4. Proton Saga
  5. Proton X50
  6. Perodua Ativa
  7. Proton X70

So head on over and check out myTukar Certified second hand national cars!

merdeka month

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