Proton e.MAS: What will the Malaysian brand face in its EV debut?

Malay Mail
Malay Mail
  • The government is encouraging EV adoption to cut Malaysia’s reliance on subsidised petroleum-based fuels.

  • EV sales are growing exponentially, rising nearly threefold in 2023 and accelerating.

  • Once-dominant Proton has been making a comeback since being acquired by Geely, but is late to the EV game.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — Earlier this month, Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Sdn Bhd (Proton) finally made it first strides into the electric vehicle (EV) market, albeit by only unveiling its e.MAS brand rather than introducing a retail model.

Proton teased that its first EV would debut by the end of the year, but did not share more beyond that it would be based on the new Global Modular Architecture (GMA) platform of its parent firm, Geely Holding of China.

Once the country’s most dominant brand, Proton will face stern competition when it finally enters the market in which Chinese and Korean manufacturers have already been fighting for market share.

When did EVs first appear in Malaysia?

Market leader

The nascent market for EV has allowed several entirely new brands to launch and capture the market that traditional auto-makers have been slow to join.

Chief among these is Chinese conglomerate BYD (Build Your Dreams) that has emerged as the frontrunner here with its price appeal.

BYD’s popularity has been such that it was the country’s 10th best-selling brand for the first five months of this year for both conventional and electric vehicles.

BYD’s cheapest model is the Dolphin, which starts at RM99,000, but its best-seller is the Atto3, with over 4,300 units already registered in the country.

The firm is also not just about price as it also offers the Seal, a 390kW sedan capable of accelerating from 0-100kph in 3.8 seconds, for RM180,000.

Brand leader

Despite its price advantage, however, BYD is facing fierce competition from Tesla, which is considered the quintessential brand for electric cars.

Despite only launching officially here last year, there are already 2,740 units of the Tesla Model 3 on Malaysian roads.

The EV firm also offers other models such as the Model Y and Cybertruck here.

From January to April this year, the Tesla Model Y was also the most popular EV in Malaysia with 1,138 units registered, relegating the BYD Atto 3 to second spot with 1,118 units.

The Model 3 was third with 862 units.

Old guard

While new firms are dominating the EV market here, traditional carmakers are slowly making their push into the segment.

In Malaysia, these include luxury brands such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Audi, Porsche, and more.

Of these, BMW is the best performer, with its iX series electric SUV being the third most-sold EV in the country, with over 2,500 units registered on the road.

Korean brands such as Hyundai and Kia were among the earliest to introduce EV models but have struggled to carve out market share, likely due to a lack of cachet to justify their offerings over those of the premium European marques.

Where are the big hitters?

In Malaysia, the automotive market is dominated by Perodua, Honda, and Toyota, but all three are notably absent from the EV field.

Toyota and Honda have both resisted committing to EVs and continue to push their internal-combustion powered vehicles, with their closest offerings being hybrid-powered models.

Toyota has also notably advocated for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as as an alternative to battery-powered EVs.

As for Perodua, which is linked to Toyota via Daihatsu, the second Malaysian carmaker is set to release its first ever EV in 2025, after unveiling Electric Motion Online or emo-1 model at the Malaysia Autoshow 2024 in May.

Fast growing segment

According to the Zero Emissions Vehicle Associations (Zeva), up until February this year, the total number of EVs in Malaysia is 16,763 units.

The Malaysian Automotive Association has predicted that battery EVs could make up 2 per cent of total industry volume for 2024, which would be nearly 15,000 vehicles based on the forecast of 740,000 units for the entire year.

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