Proton should not sell a controlling stake to a foreign company because that would spoil its identity as Malaysia’s national car maker, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

The Associated Press (AP) noted that the country’s government is in talks with Volkswagen and General Motors to forge a strategic alliance for Proton, while several Malaysian industry players have also lobbied to buy into Proton Holdings, but the government, which owns around 43% of Proton through its investment arm, has stressed the need for foreign expertise, preferably via a stake investment, to revitalise the struggling automaker.

Mahathir – who championed Proton during his 22-year rule and is now the company’s adviser – was reported to have said the way to reverse Proton’s dwindling fortunes was to revamp its management and bring back former company executives who had previously performed well.

“If you sell to a foreign company, then it’s no longer a national car,” Mahathir told the Associated Press. “If you want to sell, you have to sell to a local company.”

AP added that the government missed a self-imposed 31 March deadline to announce a partner for Proton and Mahathir’s successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, said recently he would meet with executives from Volkswagen, but the meeting has so far not taken place.