Gurcharan: Proton marketing brains in 1980s

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia| 9 July 2015 Asia Samachar |
The task of marketing this little known Proton car to the Malaysian public rested on one Mr. Gurcharan Singh, better known as ‘Gurch,’ who was later given the honory Datuk title in 1988 - HANS IN CARLIST.COM
The task of marketing this little known Proton car to the Malaysian public rested on one Mr. Gurcharan Singh, better known as ‘Gurch,’ who was later given the honory Datuk title in 1988 – HANS IN CARLIST.COM

The late Gurcharan Singh is seldom mentioned when one talks about Proton Saga, the national car launched 30 years ago on this day. The name that is synonimous with the Malaysian first national car has always been that of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“Curiously, you won’t find any mention about the late Datuk Gucharan Singh in Proton’s official history, which is a shame, because while Mahathir had the vision, it was Gurch who successfully marketed the first Proton Saga, which as we mentioned earlier, wasn’t really that cheap against the Japanese competition,” writes a car enthusiast at CarList.Com.

He writes: “The task of marketing this little known Proton car to the Malaysian public rested on one Mr. Gurcharan Singh, better known as ‘Gurch,’ who was later given the honory Datuk title in 1988.

“Gurch was the first General Manager at Edaran Otomobil Nasional (EON), who was then responsible for the sales and marketing of Proton cars in Malaysia (this was before Proton Edar was setup).

“Gurch came from UMW and was responsible for setting up UMW Sarawak Sdn. Bhd, and became its Eastern Regional Director.”

In 1990, Gurcharan left EON to setup Del-Sol Corporation, which put together Hyumal Motor Sdn. Bhd., the first importer of Hyundai vehicles in Malaysia, prior to the formation of Hyundai-Sime Darby Motor.

The Ipoh-born Gurcharan certainly made a difference at EON. His marketing prowess ensured that the national car gave a run to the imported cars, mainly from Japan.

An article entitled ‘Gurcharan – man with the Midas Touch’ in the News Straits Times (16 May 1961) notes: “His [Gurcharan] long years with UMW and EON, and the previous successes will benefit Hyumal Motor Sdn bhd, which has just won the exclusive right s to distribute Hyundai vehicles in Malaysia. This is especially so since Datuk Gurcharan Singh is a shareholder and consultant to Hyumal as well.”

The article was part of a special focus, most probably paid by the client, inconjunction with the launch of the Hyundai Sonata. Hyumal chairman is Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor. His family concern Tadmansori Holdings held a 30% stake in Hyumal.

In the CarList.com article, the writer goes on:

An alumni of the St. Michael’s Institution (Class of 1959) in Ipoh, which some say is one of the best schools in the country, Gurch had to fend for himself when his father Harbans Singh passed away when he was about 16 or 17 years old.

His mother was of Chinese-descent, and thus Gurch was fluent in not just English and Malay, but also Mandarin as well as Hokkien. He was a true Malaysian.

When his father passed on, money was tight as his mother was earning only RM80 a month as a washer lady and had to support Gurch and his younger brother and sister.

After leaving school, he worked as a teacher at the Horley Methodist School in Teluk Intan while studying for his Higher School Certificate (equivalent to today’s STPM). He continued working and studying on his own before graduating from the University of Malaya with degree in Geography.

Between 1970 to 1973, he was the Assistant Personnel Superintendent for the-then Malaysia-Singapore Airlines, a precursor to Malaysian Airlines. In 1973, he joined UMW as a Personnel Manager.

When the late Eric Chia was asked by Tun Dr. Mahathir to setup EON, Gurch, who had already proven his mettle by setting up UMW Sarawak in Kuching with only one suitcase and recruited staffs at a hotel lobby, was handpicked by Chia to be his right-hand man at EON.

Long before pre-launch teaser campaigns and road shows became a norm, Gurch orchestrated one of the biggest teaser campaigns for an automotive brand in Malaysia, a feat that is not matched until today.

Gurch, who was often said to have the ‘Midas Touch’ and had a knack for making something big out of nothing, knew that to win over the confidence of Malaysians, advertisements alone will not do.

He also knew that it was important to build the goodwill among Malaysians to support the national car project, and that meant engaging Malaysians from all walks of life – including people in smaller towns where there isn’t a Proton showroom.

Plans for a ‘Sagarama’ road show was then put in motion. The Saga was first shown to the public on 9-July 1985, but the car will not go on sale until 28-August 1985.

In between this period, Gurch, working with public relations agency Daniel J. Edelmen, had two white Proton Sagas – BCH 1351 and BCH 1352 – driven to all 14 states in Malaysia, visiting cities and rural towns, stopping by at fishing villages and air flown to East Malaysia, to explain to every Malaysian what this Malaysian ‘People’s Car’ is all about.

Later, Gurch continued to introduce many value-added services to Proton owners, including extended operating hours at EON’s Jalan Ampang service centre, which opens until midnight. This was a time when many people were still working half day on Saturdays.

Gurch was said to have a wife and two children – David and Karen (according to an interview with the New Straits Times made in 1991).

We don’t know much else about Gurch after 1991, but we would like to pay a tribute to him for his good work to this country.

[The original storyRemembering The Late Datuk Gurcharan Singh – A True Malaysian Who Made Proton A Success In The ‘80s, by Hans appeared at CarList.com]

 

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