The good, the bad, and the ugly of EV ownership in Malaysia

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — Electric vehicles’ (EV) adoption in Malaysia is increasing, in part due to government initiatives to encourage the transition away from subsidised fossil fuels.

Due to their relative novelty, however, EVs are still relatively niche, with the overwhelming majority of vehicles sold in Malaysia continuing to be powered by internal combustion engines (ICE).

Malay Mail spoke to owners and experts to discover the pros, cons, and possible deal-breakers of owning an EV in the country.

The Good

  • EVs are cheaper to run due to lower energy cost and better efficiency

  • Electricity used for EVs generate lower emissions versus fossil fuels

  • Owners report better driving performance due to the nature of electric motors

The biggest benefit of EVs is that they cost less to drive versus traditional vehicles that use fossil fuels.

According to EV connection (EVC), the company behind the JomCharge application, EVs typically offer around 33 per cent lower fuel costs versus petrol-powered alternatives.

“For example, with the subsidised RON95 price RM2.05 per litre, and petrol car efficiency of 14km per litre, the cost per km for petrol car is around RM0.15.

“However for EVs, even assuming the highest tariff of RM0.571 per kWh, and an EV efficiency of 5.67 km/kWh, the cost per km for EV cars is actually only around RM0.10,” said EVC managing director Lee Yuen How.

Lee said the gap would only grow if the subsidy for RON95 petrol were to be reduced or eliminated, as has already been done to diesel.

Malaysian Electric Vehicle Owners Club (MyEVOC) president Datuk Shahrol Halmi said EVs generate no tailpipe emissions, making them less harmful to the environment.

“In fact there was a study a few years ago that found EVs to have 23 per cent lower lifecycle emissions when compared with ICE cars even when using Peninsular Malaysia's fossil-fuelled electricity.

“The emissions will get even lower as the EV supply chain and our electricity grid reduces their carbon intensity, as planned in the National Energy Transition Roadmap,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

Shahrol added that a major benefit of owning an EV is the instant torque of the electric motors.

Torque is the force of the motor or engine that is responsible for the sensation of being pushed into one’s seat during acceleration.

“Their inherent smoothness and silence make EVs very nice to drive especially when in stop and go traffic,” Shahrol said.

The Bad

  • Less range compared to petrol, diesel vehicles

  • EVs take hours to fully charge

  • Charging infrastructure still being developed

A major disadvantage of EVs currently is their relatively worse driving range compared to ICE vehicles, which can be as little as under 200km for some base models.

This effectively limits their use to urban areas where they can be reliably recharged and while more longer range models are becoming available, these are typically significantly more expensive.

“Additionally, ‘range anxiety’ or the fear of running out of power without access to a charging station, remains a concern, although this is being addressed through technology improvements and network expansions,” Siemens Energy Malaysia managing director Azli Mohamed.

This is exacerbated by how long it takes to recharge the batteries on EVs. A petrol or diesel vehicle can be refilled in minutes, while EVs need several hours to fully recharge with anything short of a fast charger, which are still not widely available.

While Malaysia is committed to improving its EV charging network by installing 10,000 bays by 2025, this number was below 3,000 at the start of the year.

There is also the problem of charging bays in stratified properties, where the joint management bodies may not be inclined to install chargers and dedicated EV bays yet due to cost, safety, and liability concerns.

The Ugly

  • Higher initial price, unknown residual value

  • Significant battery replacement cost

  • Obsolescence risk

The lower running and maintenance costs of EVs mean that while they are typically cheaper to operate, their higher prices compared to ICE vehicles meant the savings may take time or never materialise.

This has also created the perception that EVs are the playthings of the wealthy rather than a practical alternative to petrol or diesel vehicles.

“Fully imported EVs aren’t allowed to be sold under RM100,000, making them out of reach for approximately two-third of Malaysia's car purchasers, but hopefully this will change once Proton and Perodua launch their own EVs,” Shahrol said.

Making things worse is the novelty of the EV segment, which makes it impossible to reliably predict how much resale value the vehicles can hold after several years of ownership.

Prices have also been in a flux due to the increasing competition and the rapid introduction of more models into the market, Shahrol said when adding that insurance rates for EVs have risen in some countries due to their higher repair costs.

Another major financial consideration for long-term EV ownership, either for the original or subsequent owners, is the cost of replacing the batteries that inevitably degrade with time, usage, and temperature.

Replacement batteries for Tesla models, for example, reportedly range from US$13,000 (RM61,000) to US$22,000 (RM104,000) in the US. However, these should not need replacement before 10 years unless damaged or abused.

“Furthermore, when EV batteries come to the end of their life, what most people might not know is that these batteries can be repurposed for energy storage systems, which are increasingly important for stabilising the electricity grid, while extending the utility of the batteries beyond their initial automotive use,” Azli said.

Another downside about the infancy of the EV market is the rapid pace of technological advancements. With as much in common with computers as they do with ICE cars, EVs run the risk of becoming obsolete with the introduction of new and improved models.

“The risk of technological obsolescence is another factor, necessitated by the fast pace of innovation in the EV sector.

“This demands a flexible approach to infrastructure development, allowing for future upgrades and adaptations, similar to strategies employed in Silicon Valley’s tech companies,” Azli said.

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