Tue, 30 May 2023



Of EVs and a conducive automotive ecosystem
Published on: Monday, March 20, 2023
By: Yamin Vong, FMT
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In Asean nations, only the status-seeking super rich and wealthy environmental activists can afford electric vehicles (EVs).

The overwhelming majority of motorists just talk about EVs but in reality, cannot afford it.

Just look at Malaysia, hybrids (petrol-electric hybrids including plug-in hybrids) are selling very well compared to battery electric vehicles because you don’t have to worry about the very limited number of charging stations.

The transition from fossil fuels to electricity must be envisioned as a national mission. The role of installing enough charging stations cannot just be placed on Petronas-subsidiary Gentari, Tenaga Nasional, or oil companies.

The successful electrification of private cars essentially means that wall chargers should be placed on as many houses as possible, turning them into their own energy station. Solar panels should be incorporated in buildings and housing projects as much as possible.

The energy transition should involve the whole community, with the government providing the regulatory framework to require charging points at as many bays as necessary at multi-level car parks, PPR flats and strata offices.

Three telling experiences

Let me tell you about three experiences which give me a lot of hope for Malaysia and the transport industry.

The first was the launching of a project to develop a hydrogen powered EV truck in a collaboration between transport and cold-chain logistics company Biforst Bhd and NanoMalaysia Bhd.

This collaboration will result in an electrified Fuso lorry on the road in Malaysia.

What makes it great is that NanoMalaysia will generate the electricity from hydrogen stored in a solid state and this storage technology will obviate the need for long charge cycles of a traditional battery-powered vehicle.

“We can get it on the road within a year because it’s not fundamental research. It’s basically a scale up of this solid-state hydrogen technology that we’ve already proven in our Caterham 7,” said Rezal Khairi Ahmad, the CEO of NanoMalaysia.

The Caterham 7 is a sports car based on the legendary open-wheel Lotus 7.

New EV platform

The second uplifting experience was a visit to the Hampshire Group’s EV lab at the Malaysia Technology Park in Bukit Jalil.

Hampshire is a Malaysian company listed in the US which owns the American heritage motoring brand Duesenberg.

The company is building an EV platform that can be used as a sports car or as a saloon. It is close to completion because the final part of writing the software for the master computer to talk with all the other computers in the car has been successful.

The EV platform can be on the road within the next two months, says a manager, Joseph Ebrahmian. But he’s worried about headhunters pinching his R&D staff.

For the past few years, Vietnam’s EV maker, Vinfast, has been aggressively headhunting for staff, including people in Proton and its world-renowned Lotus ride and handling department.

New city-runabout EV

Finally, I had my “eureka moment” at lunch last week with a motor industry veteran who has had his fair share of successes and challenges.

He told me of a proposal by a China EV manufacturer which wants to build and sell city-runabout EVs for less than RM60,000. The company says production would cost a fraction of assembling a conventional car from a CKD (completely knocked down) pack.

His revelation confirmed what another industry veteran had told me about a South Korean car maker which has established an EV car plant in Singapore. The SKD (semi-knocked down) pack contains only about 70 components compared to the thousands of parts required for a traditional car.

Split in the EU

How will electrification affect the automotive industry in Malaysia and Asean which Toyota and Japan’s automotive industry regards as its backyard?

The industry is essentially changing but it is a gradual process which will take time, especially taking into account the split in European unity.

Early this month, Germany pushed back against the European Union’s bid to ban sales of all CO2 emitting cars by 2035 and the EU’s Green New Deal will be delayed until further notice.

Germany is the largest car maker in Europe, and cars account for 20% of export earnings.

Ironically, when Toyota’s CEO, Akio Toyoda, publicly stated that the world was not ready to switch completely to EVs just yet, he had to pay for his honesty in the face of the almost hysterical global support for EVs.

In January this year, he announced his resignation and nominated his successor, the Lexus CEO who headed a Toyota EV project.

Planning the transition

While there’s no denying the imminence of electrification as energy moves away from fossil fuels and carbon emissions, the transition must be planned in a way that doesn’t leave people structurally jobless.

While the US, South Korea, Germany, and China are pioneering EVs and battery technology, it is China car companies including BYD and SAIC’s MG Roewe that are the new investors in Asean.

In the mineral mining sector, Indonesia’s wealth of nickel and copper resources has attracted EV companies such as Tesla and CATL of China, the world’s largest EV battery maker.

CATL last year signed an agreement with two Indonesian companies to set up a US$6 billion integrated mining and battery manufacturing facility in Sulawesi and other places in the country as well.

As Urs Muller, an automotive industry analyst based in Bangkok said:

“Thailand has the widest developed charging network among the three major car-making Asean nations comprising Malaysia and Indonesia. Still there are many parts in the kingdom with very limited coverage. Malaysia is far behind with battery charging stations and Indonesia has a lack of road networks while EVs are a dream.

“China sees the future in EVs ,however the growth is limited because of the worldwide lack of chips,” he concluded.

Lack of motor vehicle sales data

What Malaysia must do to nurture its automotive industry is to create a conducive ecosystem.

One step is to make vehicle sales data more transparent.

Can you imagine: monthly data on car brands and models sales volume is not transparently and publicly available, after an overzealous but successful prosecution by the Malaysian Competition Commission in 2012.

The way around this is for economy minister Rafizi Ramli to facilitate the release of this aggregated monthly sales data of car brands and car models and by state from the transport ministry.

This is one step of many needed to strengthen Malaysia’s quest for automotive investments and technology in competition with Thailand and Indonesia.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.