T h e establishment o f Malaysia 's Perusahaan O t o m o b i l Nasional (Proton or National A u t o m o b i l e Enterprise) in 1983 not only marked the initiation o f an ambitious "national car pro j e c t " but also triggered ma jor analysis and debate in the ensuing years. 1 T h e pro ject attracted attention in Malaysia and abroad , as the creation o f a truly local auto industry has great symbol ic importance for the developmental success o f newly industrializing countries (NICs) . In addition, the fact that the Proton pro ject was almost uniquely the creation o f Malaysia's then n e w pr ime minister, Mahathir M o h a m e d , and established by the government , m a d e it a case study for debates about the leading role o f the state in late industrialization. M o s t studies have focused o n specific aspects o f the Malaysian automotive industry: for example , o n Proton alone, or o n its relations to autoparts suppliers. Such narrowly focused studies provide important thoroughness and detail; however, they often neglect the larger institutional and pol icy context necessary for a comprehensive evaluation o f this key sector's deve lopment progress.