Malaysia's troubled national automaker Proton can no longer rely on a "blank cheque" from the government, Prime Minister Najib Razak warned Tuesday, saying it must address serious flaws in its business model.
Najib also took a swipe at his political rival, former premier Mahathir Mohamad -- declaring that "Mahathir's era of political interference (in Proton) has come to an end".
In April the government approved a bailout package of 1.5 billion ringgit ($384 million) to help the struggling state-owned company with its debts.
"The loan was not a blank cheque," Najib said in a statement after launching a new Proton model.
The package was conditional on the firm drawing up comprehensive plans to reverse falling sales.
Najib said the government had provided Proton with 14 billion ringgit over three decades but its share of the domestic automotive market had plunged to 15 percent now from 74 percent in 1993.
He said two factories were built, capable of producing 400,000 units a year, but Proton managed to sell only 102,000 cars last year.
"Proton is not currently in the position that it should be," the premier said.
The urgent need for the cash injection exposed serious structural flaws and the need to end political meddling, he said, while pledging continued support for the manufacturer.
Najib also announced the formation of a task force to help Proton find a foreign partner to ensure it remains viable.
"There has been too much political interference in Proton's strategy, management -- including of personnel -- and business model," he said, singling out Mahathir.
Mahathir, 90, who has launched a political campaign to oust Najib over alleged corruption involving a scandal-laden state fund, resigned as chairman of Proton in March.
He had founded the company in 1983 as part of an ambitious national industrialisation plan, but it has earned a reputation for unimaginative models and poor quality.