I'd never heard of Proton, Malaysia's national car maker, but - thanks to The Economist November 17th issue - I now know that they're coming out with an automobile aimed at Muslims.
Proton is hurtin' for certain. It sold only 130,000 cars last year, and it's export numbers were 20,000 in total. Not much of a dent in the car market - and sales numbers that led to a substantial loss. (Sure, that $169M loss is chump change compared to what a Ford or a GM might do, but it's all relative.
So their last ditch effort is a car designed for Muslims.
Which sounds pretty ridiculous.
Hard to believe that people will be clamoring for cars rigged out with a compass that points to Mecca, and special storage for a Koran and a headscarf. (Pardon me, but isn't that what we used to call the glove compartment?)
Yet people do like to buy from their own, don't they?
Half the painting-carpentry-plumbing vans in the Boston area have a shamrock painted on their side. I don't suppose they're doing that because it's bad for business.
But when it comes to driving, I'm guessing that there's really no meaningful way to differentiate along religious lines.
I guess you could have a born-again car with a radio hardwired to receive Christian stations only. Or that was named for something biblical: Goliath, The Ark.
I guess you could have a Catholic car with built-in St. Christopher medal and holy water fonts where the drink holders are now. The colors could be saint-inspired: St. Jude Green, Our Lady Blue.
The Jewish car could use Yiddish to send the driver a message: Oy, you're running low on gas! What, are you meshugas driving so fast?
The Buddhist car's interior would be completely quiet. The Hindu car could be saffron-colored and go "Ommmmmm" when you turn it on.
No, when it comes to car-buying, people want plenty of things - they want fuel economy, or pickup, or room to carry, or luxe interiors - but I don't see them sacrificing on anything for the sake of a few religiously inspired conveniences.
Plus, there's such a low barrier to entry to any of the stated Islamic features. How much does it cost to glue in a Mecca-oriented compass? If there's anything to providing these features, the incumbent companies selling into Muslim countries will be able to tack them on quite easily.
Proton doesn't even dominate the market in Malaysia. Once the protectionist gloves came off, their market share plummeted from 60% to 23% in just 5 years.
I'd say that Proton has problems that won't be solved by adding a couple of inexpensive features that no one really cares about to begin with.