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About Proton

Proton BHD was incorporated on May 1983, originally conceived by Malaysia's former Prime Minister of the day Dr Mahathir (, 2010). In 1985, Proton marked a momentous year in Malaysia's history, which is the year they officially launched Malaysia's first car, the Proton Saga at its first manufacturing plant in Shan Alam, state of Selangor. Since the year of production, Proton has leapt from nowhere to become the predominant force in the country's vehicle industry (New York Times, 1995).

In 1996, Proton took a major step forward in upgrading its engineering capabilities when it acquired a share in Lotus Group International Limited, a British automotive engineering company and manufacturer of luxury sports car. LOTUS has a critical role to play in the PROTON Group to enable it to become a successful automotive engineering and manufacturing group. Since the acquisition, Lotus is closely involved in Proton's new model development and together they offer large scale manufacturing capabilities with world- class engineering expertise (

The company has come a long way since 1983, Proton has produced over 3 million cars. PROTON's current lineup includes the Saga, Iswara, Wira, Satria, Perdana, Putra, Satria GTi, Juara, Waja, Arena, Gen.2, Savvy, Satria Neo, Persona and the last but not least Exora. From the first production of Saga to the latest launch of the Malaysia's first home-grown MPV-Exora, the brand has indeed been faithfully planning, designing, and manufacturing cars with Malaysians' needs and wants in mind (Proton Annual Report 2009) .

About Toyota

In 1938, Toyota opened its first mass production facility in Koromo, Japan. From the year on, this is a tremendous success of the company head on the world automobile market. Until the present time, the company has become the largest multinational corporation that is specialized on the manufacturing of cars in the world market.

Toyota's history is a history of tribulations. They faced a management crisis in 1950, pollution problems and oil crises in the 1970s, and trade issues and voluntary export controls in the 1980s. However, the current situation of Toyota leading position in the world market has proved the necessity of changes since Toyota was not consistently rely on the approaches it used in the past. In fact, there is dramatically upward trend of vehicles sales growth since the fiscal year 2000 (figure 1). Obviously, this is much contributed to their successful strategy of the market expansion and the implementation of the effective management style.

Source: Toyota Annual Report 2009

Demographic Segmentation

Demographic segmentation consists of dividing the market into groups based on variables such as gender, age, income level, social class and educational achievement (reference from book). Those variables are amongst the most popular bases for segmenting customer groups. For example, this can insist the organization to segregate the market into several groups, each having a common variable, and target each of these groups to develop the performance of the organization. In others word, it helps the organization easily to categorize the wants of the consumers on the basis of demographic factors. In this paper, there are three main demographic segmentation variables are discussed, which are age, gender and income.

Age Segmentation

Consumer desires are varies with the age differences although they may still wish to consume on the same types of product. Marketers design, package and promote products differently to meet the market needs of different age groups. For instances, Proton is pitching its new car to the young people as a basic strategy of courting the recent young generation. Fuel-efficient lifestyle vehicle as younger consumers seek more performance. The successful introductions of the revitalized Proton Satria Neo with a CamPro CPS engine to boost have now sportier than the first generation were well-received among the young market segments (Proton annual report 2009). However, Toyota faces an age issue, being seen as the models were introduced in Malaysia. "Younger consumers are going through a phase of 'Not my father's Camry' just as the 1970s and 1980s”, according to Krebs (2006) cited in the CNW report. He further argued the average age of Camry drivers is 48, and this made the younger consumers sees Toyota as a brand for older drivers. Arguably, this made Proton has comparative advantage when position itself in younger age market.

Gender Segmentation

Traditionally male-dominated a high percentage of cars consume. But, there is a growing appreciation of female customers. According to the recent analyst report of 9(Euromonitor International, 2010), female drivers in Malaysia are becoming more aggressive compared to men. Quoted in the report, “Retailers and manufacturers now not only target women in the obvious product sectors, such as fashion, children's clothing and footwear and food, but they now also consider women when marketing household goods and cars(Euromonitor International, 2010). From this, there will be no way of Proton and Toyota against any chance of losing customers at this point. The truth is just because business like being in the right place at the right time with products and services develop to meet the market high demand. What if biggest competitor were to begin to actively market to women, they will lose the first mover advantage in the market sales Therefore, the arising of female customers in the automotive industry to catch on as they take action either launching the new products or services improvement, at last to attract female consumers.

Income Segmentation

Income is possibly the most common basis for segmentation. Malaysia Annual gross and disposable income increased from RM7,167 (US$2,548) in 1997 to RM12,313 (US$3,582) in 2007per capita saw a positive growth trend in both current and real terms. As such, the rising demand as disposable incomes rise, and the future potential for low-cost, high quality foreign vehicles make this market an attractive both Perodua and Toyota despite fierce price competition.

This is having a positive impact on Malaysian consumer spend more confidently on Variation in personal incomes range from low to high, then a company should offer some cheap products, some medium-priced ones, and some expensive ones. Proton as local brand has enjoyed the government subsidy and low government tax compare to the imported brand. Proton had achieved its objective of providing affordable cars to Malaysians under the low-income bracket. The only exception of the Proton will be its luxury product - Proton Perdana which lifestyle of fairly high class particularly target on monthly income basis RM3500 and above. However, Toyota withstanding high young business class people ( On the other hand, potentially Toyota Corolla target for low end income, Camry for the middle of the roaders and Lexus for High end. In Malaysia, Lexus especially reposition its brand to the “prestige luxury” in long term market segment ( This is especially Toyota seek the potential for spending on luxuries as Malaysia slowly becomes a more developed country (Euromonitor International, 2010) due to the rising incomes and expenditure recent Malaysian segment. Evidence, “expenditure made up for 87.3% of annual disposable income per capita, compared to 81.1% in 2006” Euromonitor International, 2010) .

Psychographic Segmentation (global elite lifestyle segement)

Demographic information is a starting point for the market targeting but not the decision factors for a business to take root and grow. Marketers must combine this traditional segmentation base, with those elements of the psychographic segmentation and marketing mix, in order to produce meaningful target markets on a global scale (Thesis Author). Psychographic segmentation also referred to as behavioural segmentation. This illustrates a number of shared values and opinions regarding the consumer's lifestyle and attitudes are influencing their buying behaviour (All the authors from the book).

In order to create a deep understanding of consumers' insights of global car brands against local car brands, qualitative approach was adopted with questionnaire survey through the email process. The study consisted of 5 adult Malaysians in the age group of 27- 52 years old. The findings were analysed and their views of customer segmentation were categorized as follow:


Subjects indicated that important value for them when considering the brand of car they purchase has to be reliability. Comments included

‘I will look into the car's reliability'

‘Reliability is assured'

‘A reliable brand of a car save me a lot of maintenance cost'.

Ultimately, the comments reflected reliability is important to the people in this segment, as much as the brand of car they willing to buy. Obviously, all customers want value, whether the lifelong maintenance or the reliability of the car. In this segment, Toyota is an example of why the Japanese makes deserve their reputation for building cars you can rely on. Toyota built its brand on reliability, not excitement. Toyota renowned “just in time” inventory strategy that minimizes inventory and carrying costs (Andrew, 2010). Evidence, German cars technical control organization has ranked the Toyota products which are the world of top 20 lowest fault rate among the international brands, recorded in TÜV report (see figure 1) ( 2010(a)). From the organization description, a car model has to be tested at least 500 times to be assorted in TÜV report, so statistics are exact enough ( 2010(a)).

Source: 2010(a)

Source: 2010(b)

In contrast, the Proton is a budget car and some people might have doubt about its reliability. Subjects commented ‘most of the Proton products are reliable' and ‘Proton good in the reliability, especially GTi has been no exception'. But there is also bad commented like ‘high failure car rates'. In fact, British Independent newspaper cited Proton beat British cars for reliability. In the same report, Proton was showed one of four makes - with Honda, Mazda and Toyota - rated least likely to develop a fault or break down by the Consumers' Association ( Judd, 1999). Yet, Proton has its core values of placing customers first, even before profits (Proton annual report 2009). They do changes for customer satisfaction as the main objectives of their organization to gain the market position.

Quality & Safety

Refer to the survey, most of the interviewees seen the good quality as core attributes when they looking for their car. When choosing a major purchase, quality will play an ultimate role in many peoples' decisions; to Malaysian, it should. According to Euromonitor recent report, the rate of car ownership in Malaysia is 600-700 per 1,000 inhabitants, a rate that put Malaysia ahead of Japan, UK, Singapore and Thailand ( It can imagine how plenty of passengers are travelling on the road per day and the safety on road is especially awareness to the public. Therefore, this is why the commenting from the Malaysian interviewees is too concerned about the car's quality as safety.

Subjects produced two comparison comments around the idea that:

“Famous Toyota suspension and most important is its safety. Voted safest in its class”

“The performance of Proton isn't that bad, at least it's sufficient and economical. But I would like to say the weakness is its quality.”

Arguably, people are always having doubt about the quality of the Proton. While always come to the comparison the quality of the two brands, Toyota firmly voted the most due to its world renowned quality. To prove the argument, Toyota Corolla and Proton Impian with similar size and spec are taken for European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) crash test. Test results and safety ratings are published in groups, based on size/weight categories.

Proton Impian (Proton Waja) 2002, 1.6 GX , 4 door saloon

Test Date: Jun 2002

Toyota Corolla 2007, LHD , 4-door saloon

Test Date: Feb 2007


As the results showed, two similar products from two different brands were tested in the same test, but the output would be much different. Cited from the figure, Toyota Corolla scored the full crash start rating and rated predominantly fair in the pedestrian tests. However, there was disappointing result showed in the Proton product. Hence, there is a reason that Toyota is climbing the ladder to the top of the customers most satisfied automaker list. They have proved themselves with the qualified products, winning awards in virtually all departments of the industry. In Malaysia, the reputation of its quality has given competitiveness of the brand in the market. This can result a longer continuation for him/her to get back the brand in long term effect.


Price segmentation is common and widely practiced. The economic inflation or rising in fuel price has made consumers aware of the competitive pricing with competitive features. One subject from survey questioning commented “cheap price is essential” as core attributes when he looks for a car (see appendix). While the battle of domestics brand and Toyota to hold their ground, automakers Proton attacking Toyota at significantly lower prices and with near-Toyota quality. Case in point is the recently introduced Proton first-ever MPV, Exora , aimed squarely at the Toyota Avanza as it has locally competitive pricing and value-for-money proposition (annual report 2009). The subject further elaborated “I will go for Gen2 which they are 30k differences. I will go for Vios if I win lottery”, cited from a female participant when she questioned on choosing the two products from two brands. Therefore, it can be analyzed that most of the Malaysian will look depth into price factor of buying a product. In this case, Proton has gain an advantage of price comparative with competitors in the same category. Proton always the good buy for those start tight pockets, no offense.

Brand Postioning

Quality control

Quality is about customer satisfaction and meeting customers' expectations. As the key to improving quality in the market is to understand the needs and perceptions of customers. Proton cars from its previos market segment have showed it's notorious quality control. Proton MD Zainal recognized that is serious of many complaints by customers on Proton Quality Control (Tan, 2006). It is important to accept that this is something that has to be changed. From his suggestion of improvement, the first step will be changing individual attitudes towards work.

In drawing on lessons from the past, Syed Zainal said Proton had recently established a “monitoring system to identify defects on the production line to respond faster to problems of defective components” (Bernama News, 2010). He further announced Proton has co-operate with Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) of Japan which mutually beneficial and at the same time accelerate Proton's product and quality programmes (Proton annual report 2009). As such, it is effective way to reverse this negative perception that Malaysians have on their brand image. For now, the carmaker is striking back with the release of its latest model, a slick 1.2 liter Proton Savvy, with automated-manual transmission, which touts German quality controllers at its plant and a tough, sturdy image (asiatimes, 2005). It is indeed challenging and, to say the least, quality enhancement give Proton a market position in the market.

Toyota vehicles' legendary reputation for reliability resulting from Toyota Motor Corporation's passion for quality and focus on the customer. Evidencely, toyota's vehicle quality acheivements have been recognised by the JD Power Initial Quality Study (IQS). The IQS define to serve the industry's benchmark for new vehicle quality both in design and production. Accordingly, Toyota Innova achieved No.1 for the MPV segment while Toyota Vios acheived No. 2 for Entry segment both in 2008 IQS results ( acheivements has shown Toyota as leading the market segement of best reliability, which threaten the local brands position in their domestic market effectively.

Developing New Products

New car segments from international brands emerged to maximize sales, offer choice and build brans (Doole & Lowe, 2004).Positioning product against competitors, Proton continue to produce exciting, market-centric, value-for-money products to win over the hearts of the consumers. Previously, Proton Persona was the first to embody PROTON's philosophy of manufacturing “the right car for the right market at the right time for the right price” (, 2010). The Persona first with its stylish yet practical exterior and interior was properly positioned itself “exceptional value for money” in the right market. Purchasers immediately recognize its benefits and the elegant design were unique to major competition's offering. In the right time, Proton has established itself as a low cost leader with its Persona at the right pricing. The launch of Persona with its attractive price tag that ranges from RM44, 999 to RM55, 800 has halved of the competitors similar products, and this made the demand of the Persona continues to outstrip supply (Proton Annual Report, 2008). Today, Proton's launching a research and development of global small car programme which is crucial in their efforts to target the global and domestic market. Conceptually, this new cars will be a competitively priced, small and trendy hatch, with a small capacity engine that meets all emission standards (Proton annual repost 2009).

A strong brand like Toyota is recognizable to the consumers due to their well-developed of brand image. This makes Toyota product positioning efforts in Malaysia more effective. Still, Toyota that already established a successful brand can extend the brand by adding new products under the same branding. Toyota first enters the stage with new technologies of hybrid electric. In 1997, Toyota Motor Corp. launched its originally designed production hybrid passenger car Prius, which changed the stream of electric vehicle's history. Such vehicle claims lower emissions, half of carbon dioxide and one tenth of nitrogen oxides compared to a gasoline car (Sanna, 2005). To put it more precisely, the major efforts of the company target the development of environmentally friendly technologies. In fact, the vehicles very perspective and meet the recent requirements to the environmental safety of cars since the emission of dangerous gases of such cars are minimal. In addition, Toyota strengthening effort to develop next generation safety technologies by fuel cell hybrid vehicles (FCHVs), adaptability to various alternatives fuel issues (Toyota Annual Report 2009). Nevertheless, the market position of Toyota is very perspective, basically due to the wide implementation of technological innovations, which enhance the leading position of the company in the world market.

Product Offerings in Malaysia

Proton is the first Malaysia made car. The first model was called Proton Saga which was commercially launched on 9th July 1983 but the engine was imported from Mitsubishi Motors Japan, who owned 30% stake of Proton. The quality is considered good due to Japanese technology present.

The second generation Proton car called Iswara, the quality and outlook is acceptable to the public. The Proton claimed captured 60% of Malaysia Market for ca range between 1.3 to 1.5 litre. This was helped by Government encouraged the Malaysia Taxi used Proton Iswara with very special low interest bank loan.

The third generation model called Proton Waja at 1.6 litre. Proton claimed the engine is 100% made in Malaysia. This is reinforced by Proton winning strategy of introducing “the right car, for the right market, at the right price and at the right time” (, 2010). This strategy was further introduced on Persona and Saga second generation models, “with the latter powered by the new CamPro IAFM engine during the year under review and suffice to note” (, 2010) . Overtime Proton do have several models line up likes Satria GTI, Gen-2, Arena and mos recently first MPV- Exora in early 2009. Exora would be the fastest growth segment, “increasing by 12.7 per cent year-on-year in 2010 to 68,000 units” because of intense competition between Proton and international automobile manufacturers (Nam News Network, 2010). Mukhtyar (head of the automotive and transportation practice for the Asia Pacific) pointed in the news in the non-national car segment, Toyota's market share decline by 4% to 13.6% in 2009 mainly caused by intense competition in the MPV and entry-level mid-sized passenger car segment (Nam News Network, 2010).

Proton Saga (1985 - present) Proton Juara (2001 - 2003)

Proton Iswara (1992 - 2007) Proton Waja (2001 - present)

Proton Wira (1993 - 2006) Proton Arena (2002 - present)

Proton Satria GTi (1994 - present) Proton Gen-2 (2004 - present)

Proton Putra (1995 - 1999) Proton Savvy (2005 - present)

Proton Tiara (1996 - 2000) Proton Persona (2007 - present)

Perdana V6 (1995 - present) Proton Exora (2009 - present)


Toyota is insistently implementing a variety of measures to increase customer interest in cars. Customers can experience the joy from the cars offer as well as the new automobile-related lifestyles and services they provided. Commonly, the models of Toyota offered in Malaysia are controlled in the range of the local income segment. The products offered are major categorized as follow:

Passenger cars: Yaris, Vios, Camry, Corolla Altis

MPV: Innova, Avanza

SUV & 4WD: Rush, Fortuner, Hilux

Van: Hiace

Hybrid: Prius

Toyota Corona (1957 - 2000) Toyota Prius (1997 - present)

Toyota Celica (1970 - 2006) Toyota Avanza (2003 - present)

Toyota Supra (1979 - 2002) Toyota Vios (2003 - present)

Toyota Camry (1983 - present) Toyota Lexus (2004 - present)

Toyota Corolla (1997- present) Toyota Fortune (2005 - present)

Toyota Rush ( 2006 - present)

In future, Toyota is going to introduce a total of three new hybrid models. Following in late fiscal 2010, they will begin lease-sales of approximately 500 units of a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHV) combines world-beating, 38km/L fuel efficiency with driving performance in Malaysia market.


The likely approaches of the competition-oriented have reflected a firm comes out with the differences in the perceived value and performance of competitive products. Individual products are used to emphasize differences between products targeted at various market segments (Doole & Lowe, 2004). According to Solomon et al (2008: 338), “successful price planning includes a series of orderly steps beginning with setting pricing objectives”, refer to chart below.

Chart 1. Steps in Price Planning

Source: Solomon et al, 2008: 338

In the case of Proton, it maintain its profit objectives by maximize sales (in Ringgit) and improve its market position by setting the reasonable prices (a price that makes the products affordable) between RM31,000 - RM60,000 with two luxury cars Perdana and Chancellor by RM101,500 and RM138, 888 respectively (see appendix 1). The objectives of its low price setting are targeting to the income medium-low customers especially the developing country like Malaysia is low labor income. It believes to assume Proton “reasonable price” setting focusing solely on short term profits, but keeping customers for the long term (Solomon et al., 2008: 340). Instead of low pricing, but the cars are value-for-money base the price on the effective value to the customer relative to alternative products. However, it is likely to estimate the market demand when brought the products to the market. Refer to chart 2, “the highest-earning 10% of households (decile 10) spend 13.3 times than the lowest-earning 10% of households (decile 1) in Malaysia” (Euromonitor, 2010). The disposable income 30.3 times that of the poorest 10% in 2006. This means there is good expected for both Proton luxuries product Perdana and Chancellor to be sold at a higher price among the high income groups in Malaysia, known as demand-based pricing (Solomon et al., 2008: 352). Proton bases the selling price on an estimate different income group at different price. This is a good presage for Proton, whose market-seeking strategy relies on taking advantage of the rising car demand from “undemanding, cost-conscious consumers” (The Economist, 2006).

Chart 2: Consumer Spending in Selected Categories Across all Income Deciles 2006

Source: Euromonitor International, 2010

“The low price leader in any market gains competitive advantage from being able to compete in the market” (Porter, 1980). Porter (1980) further pointed producers could price at competitive parity, “exploiting the benefits of a bigger margin than competitors”. Toyota is facing a dilemma as to how to achieve a consistent pricing policy for their products across the Malaysia market. Toyota prices for the budget cars range from RM 65,000 -RM 100,000 approximately (see appendix 1). These prices compare very favorably to competitor's products of similar quality, such as Proton Waja and Toyota Vios. Accordingly, organization like Toyota is good in producing high quality autos at a reasonable price, but has the brand image and marketing strategy to use a premium pricing strategy (Porter, 1980). This strategy means the price set high to reflect the exclusiveness of the product (Tellis, 1986). Toyata use a high price where there is uniqueness or luxuries about the product, such as Toyata Camry (, 2006). “Toyota Camry is available in three versions as the low end Toyota Camry 2.0E priced at RM139,066, the Toyota Camry 2.0G at RM149,053 and the high end 2.4V going for RM168,303” (, 2006). For Camry, basically it is mid sedan car design to capture middle income group In Malaysia (, 2006). According to Doole & Lowe (2004: 373), “the high price of luxury goods is establishing their quality and it is usually the goods that have a prestige image”. This refers to the many consumers a sign of good quality relatively to high price (Doole & Lowe, 2004: 373). However, the whole range of price strategies they set is considering the customer's needs in the host country. What they trying not ignored is that there are also competitors like Proton to have a share of the pie. However, Toyota also has to consider its level of pressure for cost reduction and local differentiation within Malaysia market.

Price a selling price of their products too high, Toyota afraid customers will purchase competitors' lower-price items. To compete with Proton, Toyota set up sales promotions directed toward consumers especially on short term special event discounted price offered to stimulate sales. For example, a special event of festival moments celebration has successful ran at all UMW Toyota Motor outlets in the country for the month of November, 2008 and October, 2009 (see appendix 1). It can be seen Toyota models being listed in this month's promotion list, which is priced slightly below or the same as the competitors depending their positioning strategies. These promotions printed out itself included: low interest rate packages (which allow the customer to recover part of the purchase price) and free service vouchers (redeemable for money off a purchase). Likewise, the Toyota rebate programs of low down payment let the consumers benefit from a buy-in allowance. However, the emphasize of short-term price reductions or rebates that encourage people to choose a brand, at least during the deal period (Solomon et al, 2008: 426).


The aim of the study was to understand and comparison the market strategies of global brand Toyota versus the host country local brand Proton in Malaysia automobile sector. Both companies has involved in manipulating a series of controllable variables such as price structures, distribution, market positioning and uncontrollable external environment that is made up of local customers perceived, varies market segment, cultural values or specific geographic country boundaries. The successful marketing company will be the one that is best able to manipulate the controllable tools of the marketing mix within the uncontrollable environment. In comparison, Toyota confident about the prospects for branded goods businesses in foreign market due to its full experience of management style and strong based of global image. Toyota would be consumer preference for brands over local competitors. However, Toyota faces stiff competition from local brands of Proton. The local brand is able to produce and sell vehicles at costs far lower than those of foreign competitors as shown by the Proton 1.3L compact car only sold RM30,000 (USD$8825). Although most of the Malaysians are attracted to international brands but in reality, the statistics showed that they more prefer to purchase local brands. Proton these days is indeed different to the past with elegant designs are more responsive to the mass market. The evidence showed from the “Proton sedan, chiefly the Saga model, captured 74 percent of car sales in Malaysia in recent years” (New York Times, 1995). Proton overcome the most of the domestic market share importantly contributed to the selling price is at reasonable low at Ringgit which perfectly meet the recent Malaysian income segment. Prices of local brands are usually lower than those of international brands, providing consumers a sense of better value for the money.


Today, the improved technologies of Proton at last came out of the shadow of the Japanese suppliers selling their parts that cost heavy. Most of the components nowadays are made 100% by own local Malaysians. This is much reflected in the slogan of "Made in Malaysia for the World". However, the short history of Proton brand is still fresh to the public out from Malaysia while compared to the global brand of Toyota. From research, Proton has done well on its marketing strategies either in pricing or brand positioning in domestic market. Proton has enjoyed the benefits from government subsidy heavily in promoting campaign which not left behind from others competitors. But, the end-users are judging the quality. In fact, Proton has to find a global partner likes GM, FORD or BMW to enhance the technology and elevate to global brand due to their strong world-wide sales networks and proven technology. Secondly, Proton is suggest bringing in high efficiency assembly production line to reduce cost, improve quality and improves cycle time in order to compete globally. If Proton has improved the quality as good as Toyota possibly in future, the end-users which are the general public are free agents to promote the brand.


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Porter, M. (1980). ‘Generic Strategies'. From: as accessed on 5th April, 2010.

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Economist, The. (2006) ‘Carmaking in China: The fast and the furious'. November 23rd. From: as accessed on 16th April 2010.

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Euromonitor International, 2010. ‘Malaysia expenditure by income level'.