While Malaysians always complain about the high cost of vehicle ownership, you still find a way to park a new car in your porch every four to six years.
This creates a cycle of debt and it’s not surprising to find car owners in debt even past retirement, a financial burden that is accepted as the norm in a car crazy nation.
The fundamental issue here is the quality of your car purchase. The amount of money you pay against the quality delivered.
Locally assembled cars make up the majority of cars sold in the country, and the large Malaysian middle class are the buyers.
Vehicles 20 years ago that catered for the middle class were for the most part of better build quality than current offerings.
Admittedly, safety and technology features have increased and this is good, but the quality of interior plastics, exterior trim, paint finish, leather or seat material upholstery and finishing have actually declined as more cars populate showrooms.
Yes, they do look very shiny and attractive, but on closer inspection after a few years of use you will realise that the cabin trim easily cracks, seat material easily fades, knobs and buttons start getting “sticky”, their etchings fade and roof linings start sagging.
On the exterior, the paint is thinner and needs paint protection right out of the showroom. The headlamps are plastic and start fading after a few years, reducing the brightness at night.
The older cars used glass headlamps that looked great even after 30 years or so. The black or chrome trim around the windows lasted longer and did not fade easily.
The rubber strips on the bumpers did not warp like today’s new cars. When you unfortunately met with a fender bender, the damage was repairable with a dent removal kit.
With modern cars you will need a full panel change and a paint job to go with it. This and more are the issues that most car buyers fail to notice as there is little choice at the given high asking prices.
Even with the base model premium and luxury cars you only get slightly better quality and not really your money’s worth.
This situation will probably not get any better as car prices will continue to hike and Malaysians will continue to accept paying monthly instalments for the stipulated five to seven years.
Take Australia for example. Malaysians who migrate to Australia soon realise that homes are expensive and water and electricity bills are high.
Fuel prices are not subsidised. Plumbers, electricians and mechanics charge by the hour and probably earn more than you.
But buying a decent car is within reach as prices are lower than Malaysia. Also, education is good and the cost is much lower for Australians, but you actually pay for it over the years as your yearly income tax is very high.
Let’s look at Canada. Malaysians migrating there will enjoy very low priced luxury cars but homes and all other utilities, services and necessities are high.
Add to this the winter months where you need to spend a lot on heating and clothes to keep warm. Also, just like Australia, income tax is high.
South of the border
Singapore car prices are much higher than Malaysia but they have a very good reason as they lack the necessary land for more roads and parking spaces.
However, their currency exchange is very high, so they can travel to Australia or Canada and not feel any financial issues. Their public transport system is great but housing, electricity and water costs much more.
North of the border
Closer to home, Thailand’s cars are just a little cheaper than in Malaysia, homes are priced lower, food and services are also lower and the Thai Baht is moving upwards.
The Thai economy is getting better and tourism is booming. Fuel is not subsidised and yet the average middle class Thai can drive a decent car, live in a nice home and enjoy quality meals at a reasonable price.
Even better, with their high fuel prices and toll booths all over Bangkok, taxis still cost less per kilometre than in Malaysia.
The Thai auto market is thriving as car brands move their factories to Thailand and the Thai government is reciprocating by actively promoting electric and hybrid vehicle ownership.
Thailand has been selling high quality diesel and petrol for some years already, whereas Malaysia is just starting to sniff the idea of high quality fuel in our country.
The bottom line is that middle class Malaysians should be enjoying lower priced vehicles and a better quality of life for our stagnant income growth.
2020 is finally here and we are waiting for that great “Wawasan 2020” vision conceptualised years ago to come true!