Imagine a sedan that can do a 0-100km/h sprint in just three seconds and seat five passengers in sumptuous luxury, without so much as burn a millilitre of fossil fuel or emit a molecule of greenhouse gas. Before dismissing this as an impossible fantasy, know this – this car does exist – the electric Model S P85D by Tesla Motors. This vehicle flies in the face of the pre-conceived notion that electric cars are undesirable, unreliable and unsustainable automobiles. It might soon spin its wheels on Malaysian roads. The question raised then is, "Is Malaysia ready for the electric car?"
The electric vehicle (EV) is not a new idea, or even a recent one. The first viable car powered just by the flow of electrons was introduced in 1884 by Briton Thomas Parker, and by 1900, 38% of the automobiles on American roads were propelled by electricity. As the popularity of gasoline powered cars grew, the demand for electric cars waned, and they were relegated to the side-lines since. With the current shift to clean and renewable energy brought upon by the drive towards environmental conservation, the time seems right for these emission-less vehicles to stage a comeback.
Admittedly, the example of the Tesla Model S P85D brandished is a bit extreme, as the car and the brand reside in the upper echelons of automotive luxury and therefore invite all the usual expectations that entail such prestige. This sort of opulence is reserved only for the privileged, an embodiment of exclusivity that can be accessed by those whose pockets are deep enough. So why mention it here? The answer is, because talks are currently in progress to bring the Tesla brand to Malaysia later this year.
However, there is a catch, as the Teslas will only be available via a two-year leasing scheme to government-linked companies (GLCs) to be used as their official cars. The deal will be overseen by Malaysian Green Technology Corporation (GreenTech Malaysia), a non-profit organisation under the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA).
By giving policy makers and stakeholders first-hand exposure to the cars, GreenTech hopes that they will see the appeal and benefits of the technology, and initiate steps towards a bright future for EVs. Additionally, the operation also fits neatly within the organisation’s electric mobility blueprint, whose main objective is to drive the EV adoption in Malaysia.
Despite the fact that the Tesla would not be available to the general public anytime soon, Malaysia is no stranger to the electric car, as there quite a few units plying the roads. Two recent EV models hail from Japan – the Mitsubishi i-Miev and the Nissan Leaf, both launched here in 2013 at prices topping out at RM180,000. The bestselling EV in the world, the Leaf has been popular with those after a green car, thanks to its practical design and respectable range of around 200km.
Not to be left out, Malaysian car company Proton has been dabbling in the technology since 2010, although it has not introduced an official electric vehicle yet. Its latest effort, a prototype utilising the brand’s Iriz hatchback and employing technology sourced from South Korean giant LG Electronics, is the closest one yet to the production line. According to Deputy Minister of KeTTHA, Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid, the EV prototype is undergoing quality and safety tests. “The tests take into account the needs of customers, whether the electric car can be produced at a reasonable price, and if the vehicle’s performance meets international standards,” he said.
Datuk Seri Mahdzir also stated that the government fully supports Proton’s efforts to develop an EV, and stressed that the cooperation between government, manufacturers, utility suppliers and other stakeholders is needed to promote their use, putting Malaysia on track as an electric car production hub in ASEAN. Slated for a launch within the next two years, the Iriz EV is estimated to cost below RM100,000 with a range of around 240km.
Working with GreenTech Malaysia and the Malaysian Automotive Institute (MAI), CMS Consortium, a Malaysian company offering a suite of E-mobility services has found a novel way to integrate EV users, charging providers, fleet operators, parking management operators and telecommunication network operators via a system called Cohesive Mobility Solution (COMOS). This network was introduced as a car sharing service in a public setting for the convenience of paying users. Launched at the end of May 2015, the service has since been enjoying good response from the public. Aside from highlighting the appeal of the EV program to those who require a car to travel around, but not on a daily basis, this service has helped to raise general awareness of the advantages an EV in an urban setting over a conventional vehicle, namely benefits in the form of substantially reduced emissions and cost savings on fuel and road tax. Malaysia has also received the attention of international EV players. Beijing Auto International Cooperation (BAIC), one of the leading EV manufacturers in the world, has chosen the country as the regional hub for its EVs. It has invested RM300m in a plant in Gurun, Kedah along with its local joint venture partner, Amber Dual. BAIC’s Vice-President Li Ji has indicated his confidence in the country’s potential to become an important EV hub in Southeast Asia, pointing out that Malaysia has the infrastructure to support its expansion.
The technology powering the electric car has seen many upgrades over the decades that they have been existence, and most of the more pressing gremlins in the systems have been ironed out in that time. Limitations such as production cost and limited range have been improved significantly, making the EV a feasible choice as a daily driver. The success of the electric car in Malaysia now rests on the shoulders of influential quarters in the country, who need to ensure that incentives are introduced to push the sales of EVs, aside from securing the provision of EV necessities such as charging stations.