An evening of incessant rain has once again left thousands of Klang Valley residents having to deal with the ravaged aftermath of a flood. You’ve probably seen the many images and video footage on social media of cars either partially or fully submerged in dense urban centres.
Naturally, being a car-focused website, we’re more interested in how it impacts motorists. As Proton continues to boast the best-selling B and C-segment SUVs on sale with over 16,000 units of the X70 and nearly 29,000 units of the X50 sold in 2021 alone, the chances are rather high that quite a number of them have found themselves unlucky enough to be caught in the Monday flood of March 7th.
The dangerously high water level seen that evening left many stranded on the roads or unable to reach their vehicles altogether. For this reason, and having gone through an even worse flood in December 2021, many of us Malaysians have been rudely awakened to the importance of opting for special perils insurance, for example.
However, even with the most comprehensive of coverage plans, the need for a steady supply of parts are needed for any repair to be carried out. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’d know that Proton’s overall inventory of replacement components is already stretched worryingly thin as it is after the floods that hit the Klang Valley and the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia just a few months ago.
There seemed to be little reprieve for owners who have waited multiple weeks, even months for repair and maintenance work to resume on their car, not to mention the pending deliveries and a dauntingly long waiting list, but in the after-sales department, it looks like the gulf between demand for parts and an actual steady supply of it is only growing wider with the influx of newly damaged units after the early March ’22 floods.
We’re not sure if there’s a Malaysian or more Asian version of the Murphy’s Law adage which roughly states: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
Due to their popularity, a Proton customer’s path to ownership has become characterised typically by an extended wait time between booking and delivery. Past this point, yet more waiting is involved in repairs and maintenance due to a lack of parts at service centres. Not the most virtuous of cycles.
Maybe the worst part of flood damage is the sheer variety and severity of problems it can give a car; from spawning electrical gremlins that will never leave, to irreparable damage to vital engine components. That’s a lot of parts to have ready on hand and it seems Proton were already finding these difficult to source to build new cars with much less to pass onto the service centres.
Speaking of which, there was a higher level of anticipation for last week’s press release (4 days before the March flood) which announced that Proton saw a sales 107% rebound in February including a statement on the ongoing parts shortage crisis.
However, many saw their official response on the matter to be lacklustre, providing no clear timeline for its resolution nor did it detail tangible action steps that are being taken to solve these real on-the-ground issues.
Though the acknowledgement of the problem at hand is well and truly appreciated, only vague mentions of the supply chain “bottlenecks” and “operational issues” that have been identified and require fixing were covered.
Furthermore, Proton also outlined a new mandate that will require dealers to keep 3 months (at least?) worth of holding stock on 22 fast-moving parts. With increased demand caused by the flood and now dealers themselves having to clamour for parts to keep in reserve, it begs the question of where these parts will actually be coming from. And when?
It essentially takes some of the responsibility off of Proton Cars since a lack of parts in the future can, in theory, be blamed on dealers not having enough on hand. Of course, Proton themselves are the gatekeepers of any and all parts supply.
Clearly, official service centres operated by Proton’s new car dealer network will waste little time in passing along any parts they receive onto the customer cars that urgently need them. Only when the backlog of work orders are settled can a given dealer/SC even think about hoarding parts for itself.
In accruing this parts stockpile, they’ll be competing with each other and trying to selfishly grab any incoming allocation they can as their own customers are no doubt putting them under pressure to get their cars fixed and back on the road.
At least in the short term, Proton’s decision to artificially increase the demand for spare parts (by getting the dealers involved and accountable) seems counterproductive and might only cause more frustration while the core issue of supply persists.
More pointedly, making it a dealer’s responsibility to gather an already limited commodity won’t make these parts any less scarce. In fact, it might hasten the opposite outcome, prolonging the resolution to this parts crisis.
Never before has Proton enjoyed sales prosperity at this magnitude, so it’s somewhat understandable that they are a little unprepared for the torrent of vehicles they’d need to both assemble and deliver to customers, but also to maintain and repair over the longer term.
So far, while things might seem a little bleak, the ball is in Proton’s court and they can still do plenty to weather this storm and emerge with customer confidence (mostly) intact.
Merely admitting there’s a problem is a good start but it happened much too late in this case. Spare parts were already a major issue well before any ‘acts of God’ got in the way, but the automaker remained publicly undisturbed.
An official statement addressing the matter only emerged (on March 3rd) when the volume of dissatisfied customers reached a crescendo that could no longer be ignored. Instead, clear, frequent communication and transparency must be practised to ensure that these customers are having their voices heard.
Proton’s PR department will have to pull some extra weight to rehabilitate buyer/customer faith. The positive changes here will not be immediately obvious but can go a long way in restoring favourable perception, especially if it’s obvious the outreach comes from a place of genuine concern and a desire to improve.
And a further warranty extension past the current 5 year period or additional free maintenance can’t hurt either.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.