Demand for the SUV has gained unprecedented traction with manufacturers responding by churning out SUVs of various shapes and sizes to meet the immense demand. Our local players have jumped on this bandwagon as well; Proton is set to unveil its first SUV based on the Geely Boyue with Perodua also looking to launch a new SUV.

While it seems that Perodua could be creating yet another winner, history will unfold a particular model that was best forgotten. That unfortunate son is the Perodua Nautica. Years before, Perodua had a successful compact SUV with the Kembara. Launched in 1998 and based on the Daihatsu Terios, the Kembara had a fantastic run in this country.

The Kembara’s affordability made it one of Malaysia’s top-selling SUVs for many years. A successor was needed and Perodua adopted a different strategy for its compact SUV.

For starters, Perodua dropped the Kembara nameplate in favour of the Nautica. Seen as a creative spin from the word “Nautical”, most believed that Perodua was charting into unfamiliar waters with this new SUV. Riding on the Myvi and Viva’s wave of success, Perodua was willing to take the gamble.

Instead of the usual local assembly approach, Perodua instead went ahead with fully imported units from Japan (based on the second-generation short wheelbase Terios), a first for Perodua.

Only a handful of (mostly aesthetic) adjustments were made in what was essentially a rebadging exercise; with redesigned bumpers, steering wheel, and tweaks to the Perodua logo.

Powering this compact SUV was a 1.5-litre SZ-VE engine, which was good for 109 hp and 141 Nm of torque. Offered with a sole four-speed automatic transmission, it also came with permanent all-wheel drive.

The Perodua Nautica was launched in mid-2008 and Malaysians were taken aback, unfortunately for the wrong reason. Priced at RM89,900, it made the Nautica the most expensive car to wear the Perodua badge. To put things into perspective, the most expensive Perodua vehicle then did not breach the RM 60k mark, and for the same money, one could’ve purchased the less costly but larger, 7-seater  Toyota Rush. The Nautica’s “value for money proposition” was out the window.

Despite Perodua’s modest target sales of 200 units per month, it was widely regarded as a sales flop. If Wikipedia figures are anything to go by, less than 500 units found new homes, making it one of Malaysia’s rarest cars on the road. Perodua gracefully swallowed that humble pie and (discreetly) discontinued the Nautica in 2009.

One could only wonder what could’ve been if the Nautica was launched a decade later at a time when buyers are flocking towards compact SUVs. That said, RM 90k still sounds like a lot of money for a Perodua but come think of it, this is also a time where the Honda City and BR-V (both priced rather similarly to the Nautica then) are sold by truckloads.

Regardless of how Perodua’s third attempt on its SUV will shape up, it would be hard to dismiss the painful lessons learnt from the Nautica.

[Image Source: Perodua]


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Travis Chang
Formerly spamming articles about cars and motorsports on this site until the day-job caught up. While the day job remains as exciting as a certain beige sedan, writing about cars could be his closest display of showing passion on cars until he gets either a Bimmer, or an Hachiroku one day...