Let’s play a game of ‘what if?’
What if you had to buy an electric car in Malaysia today? What are your choices and which would you eventually choose? You’d probably go for the most eye-catching one available in the local market right now – the Porsche Taycan (main pic). A very reasonable choice of course: it’s sporty, powerful, looks fabulous, and wears one of the most prestigious badges in the automotive world.
But with the cheapest Taycan priced from RM585,000, it is not something affordable for everyone. However, you can choose it because this is a game of imagination.
But back in reality, electric cars (EVs) are, indeed, expensive. What do we blame? It’s mostly the batteries, the rest for the motors and other related components. While the technology is still maturing and prices are going down (slowly), it’s still a long way to go before it reaches the critical mass that normal internal combustion engines have achieved, thus allowing for cheaper prices.
In this context, ‘cheaper’ is a rather weak claim, however. You see, the cheapest EV sold in Malaysia right now is the Nissan Leaf for approximately RM181,000, and it’s not much larger than a RM80,000 petrol-drinking Almera, if at all. Unsurprisingly, the Leaf’s price tag pretty much stopped people in their tracks – bye-bye to greater EV adoption plans.
But what are the other roadblocks for more EV vehicles plying our roads?
We may sound like a broken record by now, but price truly is the ultimate concern for every buyer. In any market that enjoys a high number of EV usage (like Scandinavian countries) or continually reports a high number of EV sales (like China), buyers enjoy government-backed fiscal incentives for their purchase (e.g. VAT exemption, cash rebates, toll discounts, etc). In addition, some countries even allow for EVs to be driven on the bus lane, or park for free in designated spaces. Here in Malaysia – and arguably throughout the region – there are just not enough monetary benefits in owning an Electric Vehicle.
The term used to describe an EV owner’s nervousness about available charge in the battery is ‘range anxiety’. It’s an even bigger concern than having an empty fuel tank because charging an EV is a far more intricate and longer process. This is why the lack of public charging facilities remain a big question. Currently there are more than 500 public charging stations in the country but these comprise of relatively slow chargers using AC (Alternating Current). Chargers using DC (Direct Current) are much quicker but there are only five of those in operation right now in Malaysia.
A combination of government and private initiatives can improve these numbers; Petronas, for example, has been great in this, but when it comes down to the fluidity of actual implementation, it’s a chicken and egg story – neither side is willing to fully commit to the cause. The government would prefer the automotive companies to sell more EVs before more benefits could be considered, but the latter would instead very much like to see enough fiscal incentives to kick in first. The current National Automotive Policy (NAP) does not do this.
In every other country, EV purchase trends have always had a link with price of petrol at the pump. It is no coincidence that China and Europe are big adopters of electric mobility as petrol prices remain high, particularly in big cities. And while fuel costs in Malaysia are not ‘cheap’, it is far from being prohibitively expensive. Perhaps, since filling up the tank of a Proton or Perodua can be done for well under RM100 (at current prices), there really is no motivation to change to battery power. And as long as borders between states remain largely closed due to the MCO, a tank full of fuel can last for quite a while, further making EVs less attractive.
Despite great advancements in EV technology in the last half-decade or so with a much wider range of model options available (globally), on top of governmental backing to reduce usage of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, there are still big questions to answer regarding ownership cost and charging facilities. More so in less developed markets such as Malaysia, which struggles to balance between its responsibilities as a global citizen, and its duty to a large portion of the population.