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Electric Vehicle ownership in Malaysia have benefits and equally as many problems; will the hype for EVs end anytime soon?

As global shift towards EVs accelerates, Malaysia grapples with affordability, infrastructure, and environmental sustainability

As the global automotive industry embraces electrification, Malaysia finds itself at a pivotal juncture in the electric vehicle revolution
As the global automotive industry embraces electrification, Malaysia finds itself at a pivotal juncture in the electric vehicle revolution. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

By NATASHA JOIBI

The global automotive industry is moving towards electrification, and Malaysia has found itself at the crossroads of the electric vehicle (EV) revolution, with more and more drivers jumping aboard the bandwagon. But is it all it's cracked up to be?

True, the upfront cost of EV ownership remains daunting at upwards of RM100,000, especially when compared to traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Yet, there are also long-term savings, which could potentially ease the financial burdens of many.

For starters, there are reduced maintenance expenses, as EVs require less frequent servicing compared to conventional vehicles.

But more importantly, in a bid to increase EV demand, Malaysia has introduced a slew of incentives, such as free road tax, import duty exemptions, and rebates. Additionally, national carmakers Proton and Perodua are planning to unveil their own EV offerings very soon.

And, of course, drivers love them.

Efficient and convenient

For EV owner Arnee Ismail, convenient city driving convinced her to switch to an EV. And she has no regrets since purchasing her Volvo XC40 in December 2023.

"The experience has been nothing short of fantastic. Such a smooth, easy drive — even though the car weighs about two tonnes. It's great for travelling to the office and meetings around town," said the communications professional who lives in Templer, Rawang, and works in the Kuala Lumpur city centre.

"I used to drive an MPV. It served its function well as a family car, more so for long-distance travelling with kids and luggage. However, as a daily commuter car, it feels big and bulky, especially when you're caught in traffic jams. "

Arnee Ismail, a communications professional from Templer, Rawang, embraced electric mobility with her Volvo XC40 in December 2023, praising its smooth city driving for her daily commute and meetings in Kuala Lumpur's centre
Arnee Ismail, a communications professional from Templer, Rawang, embraced electric mobility with her Volvo XC40 in December 2023, praising its smooth city driving for her daily commute and meetings in Kuala Lumpur's centre. (Photo: Getty Images)

Like Arnee, Dr Sabbir Ahmad, too, was drawn to the efficiency of EVs. And for him, the lower fuel cost has been a massive pull factor.

According to the orthopaedic and sports surgeon, he used to spend around RM1,500 on fuel monthly when driving his old SUV from his home in Country Heights, Kajang to work in Ampang. However, since switching to a Tesla Model Y in August 2022, he has only spent between RM200 and RM250 monthly on electricity costs, and a minimal sum on maintenance.

Best of all, he can charge his car at home, though, that doesn't necessarily mean a reduced reliance on non-EV vehicles.

"For now, EVs are a great second vehicle for families. But I will still keep my ICE cars, which serve different functions — for family trips and to satisfy my motorsport passion," said Dr Sabbir.

According to a recent American study, households with EVs tend also to have non-EV SUVs, trucks or minivans that are driven more. As such, the environmental benefits of the former are greatly reduced.

Yet, given the lack of accessible charging infrastructure in Malaysia currently, the truth is that it might not be viable to own EVs exclusively.

Charging problems

To TK Wong, who runs a car workshop with his family in Jalan Chan Sow Lin, charging is a problem for EV owners. This, he says, is why many people have what is commonly described as range anxiety, i.e., apprehension and worry about a vehicle's battery charge to complete a journey.

"On one occasion, we let it drop to 20 per cent before recharging. But range anxiety is a genuine worry, particularly for long-distance trips or unexpected situations. And we've been closely monitoring our range, which averages around 300km on a full charge," he said.

Volvo driver Arnee concurs with the view that powering up EVs is an issue. As such, she believes that on top of slashing import duties and road tax, the government must look at increasing the availability of charging stations.

"Malaysia should aim to have full EV charging stations, just like we have for petrol. (But) I also feel many more would drive EVs if they could afford it. So, the government, car manufacturers and infrastructure providers should work together to (make EVs more affordable)," she said.

For the record, with Proton and Perodua entering the EV market, many observers are expecting purchase prices to come down. But whether or not that happens, experts say that a bigger issue for Malaysia to deal with is sustainability.

The quest for sustainability

According to Khairun Nisa Zabidi, co-founder of conservation finance advisory outfit Nusanterra, the environmental cost of owning EVs remains high.

And this is especially so when considering the country's reliance on coal to generate electricity and the environmental impact of EV battery production and disposal.

"It's a gradual process. Early adopters of EVs are paving the way for future affordability. People are recognising that as more embrace EVs, economies of scale kick in, driving down costs. (But) integrating EV technology with renewable energy is the way forward," she elaborated.

To be clear, Malaysia is aiming to have renewables fulfil 70 per cent of the country's total power supply by 2050, so it will take time for the environment to actually benefit from EVs.

But that fact aside, Khairun notes that to truly prioritise sustainability, the government must also expand beyond EVs and improve public transportation. Indeed, she says, that addressing this could be a game-changer.

Malaysia aims for renewables to cover 70 per cent of total power supply by 2050, indicating that the environmental benefits of EVs will take time to materialise.
Malaysia aims for renewables to cover 70 per cent of total power supply by 2050, indicating that the environmental benefits of EVs will take time to materialise. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

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