FUKUOKA, Japan -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday that assistance had been sought from Japanese automakers including Nissan Motor and Toyota Motor for a potential third national car project.
Mahathir told reporters on the sidelines of a four-day working visit to the city of Fukuoka that accessing Japanese automotive expertise would be "essential" to manufacturing cars to modern standards.
"Some members of my delegation will be visiting Daihatsu, but we have one company [that] has written to Nissan and Toyota to seek cooperation with them," said Mahathir, without mentioning the company's name. Daihatsu Motor is fully owned by Toyota Motor.
Talk of producing a new national vehicle began after Mahathir's unexpected victory in May's general election, reigniting debate over the need for another state-assisted car project. Some market players insist Malaysia's annual vehicle sales of just under 600,000 units do not represent the economies of scale needed for production.
Proton, the first such project set up during Mahathir's first stint as leader, was partly sold to Chinese manufacturer Zhejiang Geely Holding after dismal performance despite decades of state assistance. The second national car maker Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua, or Perodua, is a joint venture with Japanese companies, including Daihatsu.
In an earlier speech to a group of high school students attending the Japan Future Leaders School summer camp, Mahathir described environmentally friendly electric cars as the choice of the future.
Mahathir also spoke of his government's intention to reclaim the money spent on Equanimity, a luxury yacht allegedly bought with funds siphoned from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
The vessel is being returned to Malaysia after it was seized by Indonesian authorities in Bali with American assistance. The U.S. Department of Justice believes the Cayman-registered yacht was purchased with funds taken from 1MDB and has filed civil forfeiture suits for its return to its rightful owners.
"We don't want the yacht," said Mahathir. "We want the money because the yacht was bought by Jho Low with our money," he added, referring to financier Low Taek Jho.
Low is wanted by the Malaysian authorities in relation to the 1MDB case. He has recently accused the Malaysian government through his U.S. lawyer of committing an "illegal act" in attempting to retrieve the yacht, which is worth an estimated $250 million.
Mahathir said his government has claimed ownership of the vessel.
"If it is not true, Jho Low can prove where he got the money to buy the yacht because we want to know where he got the money to spend so much money on the yacht."