Malaysia's national carmaker Proton is close to appointing Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamad of Perodua Auto as its new chief executive officer, the Edge Financial Daily reported, according to Kyodo News.

Quoting unnamed sources, the daily reportedly said Zainal Abidin, who is currently the deputy managing director of Perodua, the country's second-largest vehicle producer, has been headhunted for the job vacated by Mahaleel Ariff.

The report noted Mahaleel was forced out by Proton's board in September after a bitter row over his public criticism about the running of the company.

Zainal Abidin coincidentally started his career in the automotive industry with Proton before he left for Perodua, which was formed in 2001 in the face of an increasingly competitive environment as the vehicle market slowly opens up.

Unlike Proton, which faces tremendous pressure to maintain its nationalistic feature, Perodua has opted to allow greater foreign participation, the report said. Daihatsu Motor and Mitsui & Co. of Japan together hold 51% of its shares, with the rest held by Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua.

Should Zainal Abidin take up the Proton job, he would have his work cut out for him, Kyodo News said.

Proton's market share for all types of vehicles has dwindled to about 29%. Despite having once dominated Malaysia's passenger car market, its share has now been reduced to below 40%.

It recently announced a 12.35 million ringgit ($3.26 million) net loss in its first quarter to June of 2005, as against a profit of 166.47 million ringgit in the same period a year earlier.

Adding more challenge to his job, the government said Proton no longer gets the 50% discount on excise duty under the recently unveiled National Automotive Policy aimed at attracting more foreign carmakers to set up shop in the country, Kyodo News noted.