Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Bernama News TV Interview


On Monday morning, I received a call from Laili Rahman, Broadcast journalist from Bernama News TV for an interview on my capacity as the Deputy President of the Proton Edar Dealers Association Malaysia to be aired this Saturday 21 June 2008 on Bernama News TV channel 502 Astro. I was asked to comment on the possible effect on Proton car sales due to the increase in petrol price. The interview was set on Tuesday and we had the interview yesterday but I am sure some of what was said will be censored.

The morning did not start too well with lots of screaming on my end when my Fasfik sales performance did not meet my half month target. I sat with all my Head of Departments and brainstormed on various measures to overcome the shortfall in our sales performance. I only had 30 minutes before the scheduled interview with Bernama and in temperament quickly conclude the brainstorming discussion when Laily arrived. I greeted the charming reporter and began our conversation with what other industry feels with all the price increase. Almost all industry extended a very negative view. The followings are the excerpts from the interview.

Laily Rahman: How do you see the sales performance of Proton's car after the announcement of new fuel prices?

Armin Baniaz: The fuel price increase will not have a major direct impact on Proton car sales as Proton is a people’s car. The bulk of Proton model variances ranges from 1.1, 1.3 to 1.6 cylinder capacity and are economical to use. The petrol price increase may instead improve the sales of Proton cars when the public then realise it is more economical to use Proton cars. For example, Proton Savvy was recorded in the Malaysia Book of Record for the best fuel consumption with 24km per litre.


Laily Rahman: You mentioned that it will not have a direct impact, is there an indirect impact?

Armin Baniaz: Yes indeed. The fuel price increase may affect the existing hire purchase loan repayment due to having less disposable income. The majority of proton customers are from the middle to lower income group and they usually (before the petrol price increase) do not have any extra disposable income. With the increase in the petrol price as well as the price of other essential commodities such as price of chicken, electric bills etc, they may realise then realise that they cannot afford to repay the car monthly repayment. This will increase the Bank’s Non-Performing Loan (NPL) and Banks may be more stringent with hire purchase loan approval that will eventually affect the sales of Proton cars.

With the increased in price of fuel, and the price of some essential expenditures such as electricity, water, even chicken etc.., the lower income earner that comprised of a large majority of the population who also purchased a car under hire-purchase loan usually can only meets end without any further savings or other disposable income. Any increase in essential expenditures, will be the opportunity cost to their current expenditure such as the monthly car repayment.

Laily Rahman: Will the petrol price increase effect the operation of Proton Dealers too?

Armin Baniaz: It should affect both Proton as well as the dealers, the cost of operation will be increased (especially the movement and the logistics of our stocks are cars). Currently, although Proton sales have picked up, but the dealers network is still far from profitable (due to the over-congestion of the dealers appointment). Proton dealers cost of operation is much lower than that of Proton’s own-branch. I can safely assume the dealer’s cost of operation is only approximately 30% of the Proton own-branches. Proton’s own-branches in the aggregate are selling less than double what the dealers are selling, hence there is no way Proton’s own branch are making profit (given the same profit margin as the dealers). It makes more sense for Proton to close some of their branches (rather than subsidising the lost incurred by their own branch) and convert their Platinum branches into a WARRANTY AND AFTER SALES CENTRE to further enhance and signal better confident in their cars to the customer.

For proton to cost-down operation and close their branches. All resources should be channel towards enforcing the neglected Proton IP rights and moulding every dealers towards similar goal without any biaseness to their own branch. The Dealers invested their money and is more sales, customer and profit oriented (being business owner). Nonetheless, the cost of maintaining the sales network will then be borne by the dealers.

Since the inception of Proton back in the 1980s, dealers margin were kept low to ensure long term survivability. However, the Government then under Tun Dr Mahathir, requested other sectors to assist the national carmaker but extending (similar to the developed nation) a ‘Hire-Purchase commission’. Hire purchase commission is a payment to proton dealers for marketing the packages offered by Banks and financial institutions. The hire-purchase commission accounted to 2/3 of our total margin. Profit margin per car was only 1/3. This Hire-Purchase Commission that was first extended ONLY to Proton dealers were open to all car dealers of other makes in the early 1990s and that was when I believe the benefits were abused. In the early 2000, the Central Bank revoked the hire purchase commission but later regulate and impose a ceiling. Proton dealers profit margin per car was never revised (when the hire purchase commission was revoke) though it was earlier kept low with the support of the hire-purchase commission. Todate, there were negligible revision of our profit margin though our rental has increased more than 60% since we commence operation and had spend almost RM1million in total for three times compliance to Proton Corporate Image since 1996.

With the increase in the operating cost such as Petrol, electricity etc… the dealers will incur more losses. All the increase in the operating cost are absorbed by the dealers.

Laily Rahman: Have PEDA written to the Authorities since this is of national interest?

Armin Baniaz: Yes we have. We have written twice to the Governor Bank Negara for the hire purchase commission with a detailed independant study by Ernst & Young benchmarking the dealer's responsibilties pertaining our roles as the agent to the bank and our remuneratoin (hire-purchase comminssion). The Benchmarking was done against developed and neighbouring countries like Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom, Australia and japan. We have also written to the Prime Minister?

Laily Rahman: What was their response?

Armin Baniaz: there were no response whatsoever from either the Central Bank Negara Governor (or its officials) or the Prime Minister (or its office) and we will write again soon.

Laily Rahman: Do you have any forecast for the next 6 months.

Armin Baniaz: I do not have the overall forecast. Proton would be in a better position to forecast. However, currently most of the model variances are on waiting list!
But overall we expect a total of a minimum 13,000 deliveries per month or an equivalent to approximately 30 cars per dealer that is still not our break-even sales.


Laily Rahman: Do you have any suggestions to ensure sales remain good?

Yes, since automotive is neither the buyers market nor a sellers market but instead BANKER’S LED market, the government (ministry of finance/ bank Negara) should stimulate the automotive sector by allowing the public to restructure their hire purchase refinancing to ensure that the public disposable income that is now affected by the petrol price increase (as well as all other essential expenditure price increase) can afford to pay the monthly repayment. When the public can afford to pay the monthly payment for their cars (given the increase in price for essential expenditure), the bank’s NPL will be reduced and Proton customer risk profile will be adjusted.

PEDA understand that Proton’s customer were categorised as high risk due to fraud loan, big loan default rate or high NPL. But the major cause of the loan default rate, as well as the NPL was the syndication by unscrupulous brokers and sales man. There were previously no measures or supervision of the sales personnel appoinments. PEDA together with Proton had taken the necessary (via centralised registration of all salesman) step to eradicate this practice but if we want to wait for proton customer risk profile to be re-adjusted by the market then we will have to wait for another year or even a few years.

WITH GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE, THE CUSTOMER RISK PROFILE CAN BE ADJUSTED NOW TO ENSURE THE CUSTOMER CAN STILL BUY PROTON CARS AND PERHAPS EXTENDING THE LOAN REPAYMENT FROM THE CURRENT 9 YEARS TO 12 YEARS TO REDUCE THE HIRE PURCHASE LOAN REPAYMENT AND MAKE IT MORE AFFORDABLE TO THE PUBLIC.

Having taken the necessary step to register all salesman in the network, the bank can rest assure fraud, default rate and NPL rate will be drastically reduced if not eradicated.
If the bank can adjust the customer risk profile now, than our sales can increased by at least 30% (via reducing the current 60% rejection rate due to customers with high risk profile and affordability if loan period is extended)

When PEDA did the ‘gulur tikar’ statement last year or two, our predicament was on the same basis. Yes the uncertainty pertaining to the foreign partner (eg Volkswagen) affected our sales because the pubic were waiting for the newer model line-up expected from the joint venture. BUT the main caused of the decline in sales were due to the Bank’s stringency (Customer RISK PROFILE) and the bank’s valuation of the second hand car in anticipation of the new ‘foreign model’.
SECONDLY, because of historical syndicate to falsify customers documents and the HIGH NPL, Proton customer’s risk profile are higher than other model makes. This will happen again NOW when customer simply cannot afford to pay their hire-purchase loan repayment due to less disposable income as a result from most essential expenditure price increase.


Laili Rahman: Have you heard any complaints/comments from customers regarding new fuel prices? What do you do to explain to them.

Armin Baniza: yes everyday… though the price increase is inevitable and beyond our control (as a citizen), we can mitigate the price increase through changing our driving behaviour, proper car maintenance as this will promote better fuel saving as well as restructuring our finances. For example, refinancing the car or change car to a more fuel saving car.. such as Proton Savvy// 24km per litre- recorded in the Malaysia Book of record. This is important as not only the fuel price is increased but everything from electric, water, chicken etc…. a short term measure is to ensure we can maintain our monthly disposable income.

Laili Rahman: Thank you Armin.

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