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The BMW i3s at Malaysia Autoshow 2019. NSTP

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is not exactly a haven for electric vehicles. Today, China leads electric vehicle adoption, with over two million vehicles on the road, while Europe trails behind with about 1.3 million.

In Malaysia, a recent Dewan Negara session recorded the number of EVs registered up to end of March, 2019, here, at a paltry 5,403 units.

This fact is confirmed by a random survey on online marketplaces that show just a handful of electric vehicles (EV) up for sale in our local market.

This leaves us wondering just how feasible it is to own an EV in Malaysia.

At the moment there are five issues for you to deliberate, should you plan to own one.

1. Limited options

Though going electric is an eco-conscious choice, drivers seek EVs with long range capabilities. A few years ago Renault made available a model, Zoe, at RM145,888 in the local market. The Renault Zoe is chargable using almost any kind of power outlet and the sedan is able to take you as far as 210km on a full charge.

The market has also seen the entry of Tesla’s Model S. These days a short scouring of the car at online marketplaces puts the price tag of the model at over RM650,000.

This year, BMW has made available the BMW i3s while Nissan has offered the Nissan Leaf into the Malaysian market.

Categorised as a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), BMW says its pure electric car is 80 per cent furnished with recycled and renewable resources. It can reach speeds of up to 160kph and delivers a maximum output of 135kW/184hp.

The lithium-ion high-voltage battery inside the BMW i3s delivers a range of 260km based on the Customer Oriented Electric range in everyday use. Pricing for this machine starts at RM279,000.

Another model, the Nissan Leaf, boasts a more affordable starting price of RM180,566. Offering a top speed of 155kph, this car can go as far as 311km on a full charge and offers quick charging option.

However as charging facilities around the country are still scarce outside Klang Valley, its distributor Edaran Tan Chong Motor Sdn Bhd offers Leaf owners an option to use the Serena, X-trail or Navara for trips to places without charging facilities.

2. Exorbitant prices

For cars that can perform your daily commute well and clean, many drivers still balk at the price tags of these eco-friendly machines. None are offered for less than RM100,000, despite models like Leaf benefiting from low sales tax.

In contrast, there are at least five fuel efficient cars in the market that one can get for under half that price. The Perodua Bezza 1.0 Standard G-A/T, Proton Iriz 1.3 MT, Myvi 1.3 Standard G-A/T, Suzuki Alto 1.0 A/T GLX and Hyundai i10, all introduced at a starting price under RM50,000 are way more attractive to drivers.

3. Malaysians are not eco-conscious

Are Malaysians aware of their responsibilities in conservation? Would Malaysians go the extra mile to make sure our carbon footprint is lower as they decide on which car to own?

The answer is it’s unlikely. Just over a year ago our country was listed as one of the top 10 nations that emit the most CO2 per capita. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) listed Malaysia on seventh place in 2017 on the list of countries that produce the most CO2 per capita, and we even beat bigger nations, including Saudi Arabia and United States that year

On another note, does being fully electric make EVs cleaner than other energy-efficient models? The debate is still ongoing but a few studies have found that the production of batteries used in EVs may end up with the world getting more CO2 emissions.

A study released last year by the International Council on Clean Transportation noted that countries in which the batteries were being produced as well as the battery composition registered a higher level of impact on emissions. That said, when you consider the whole life-cycle of an EV, the overall impact may be lower than petrol-based vehicles.

For manufacturers to bring in electric cars, there needs to be a minimum amount of interest in their products, and currently, Malaysians prefer still prefer their old gas-guzzlers rather than EVs.

4. Barely existing infrastructure and support

The issue of charging facilities is an essential one. Currently folks in Cyberjaya, Selangor, are considered the lucky ones as there are 16 charging stations in the area.

Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Kamarudin Jaffar said there were 251 open-to-public EV charging stations (ChargeEVs) in the country.

There are 74 more other charging avenues, 126 units of slow charger and 125 fast chargers.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz brand charger stations also exist, albeit in small numbers.

Datuk Shahrol Halmi, an owner of a Tesla S model highlighted that while it was easy enough for EV owners to charge their cars overnight, those who live in condos may face difficulties.

On top of that, drivers of EVs also need to plan carefully when travelling further.

Shahrol said drivers tended to rely on apps such as NewMotion and PlugShare to locate charging facilities outside Klang Valley.

“These apps will even let you know if someone is currently using a charging point,” he added.

At the moment, after-sales support for Tesla owners comes from Tesla Hong Kong, while parts need to be ordered and installed using the services of a third party workshop. “Because of the low BEV numbers, the technical expertise for service and maintenance may have to come from each brand’s regional office, which can sometimes make things slow for difficult issues,” he said.

“The good thing is that Tesla cars have a data connection to the factory and problems can be diagnosed remotely,” he added.

5. Poor government incentives

In line with the government push for electric vehicles to be adopted, the Green Technology Master Plan Malaysia 2017 - 2030 e-book published on the Greentech Malaysia website says that one of the challenges of owning a private EV is cost of ownership. The master plan also notes that initiatives to bridge the cost via tax exemption, purchase subsidy, tax incentive or special programme execution fund should be introduced as a catalyst.

“As it is, we’re not seeing enough programmes with immediate effect on consumers such as the lowering of road tax fees for EV owners taking place. These days, if you own a Leaf, to get it on the road you’d still be paying approximately the same amount for road tax as the next car with the same power output but with an internal combustion engine.

Note also that the same master plan says that programmes with high visibility for example e-hailing, electric public transportation and green township will be prioritised over this, especially as the market for energy-efficient and electric vehicles is being primed.

That said, the National Automotive Policy (NAP) did initially set a target of getting 85 per cent of vehicles produced in Malaysia to be EEVs by 2020, and the International Trade and Industry Ministry is in the midst of completing the NAP review. So we can only hope that the refreshed policy is still set on course.

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