Malaysian Roads to Go Electric

So, when I heard that Grab was running a campaign this weekend, in certain parts of Kuala Lumpur, whereby you can order a ride in a Tesla Model S, I vowed to seek one of those cars out and finally get my first experience in what is arguably the most popular electric car on the planet.

Let’s just say that I am now writing this article slightly disappointed. Now, I knew that the chance of snagging a Tesla ride was slim. In Grab’s own words: “…due to the extremely exclusive nature of the Tesla Model S, they’ll only be available at selected locations and times.” If I were to nitpick that statement, “exclusive” could mean that there is just one or two Model S being put to task, and “at selected…times” means that the car is out of commission for long periods when recharging – that’s almost 5 hours for a full charge, by the way.

I don’t know exactly how many Tesla’s were prowling the streets of Bangsar and TTDI, waiting to pick up eager Grab customers, but there are 10 Tesla Model S’s in the whole of Malaysia right now. The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, visited the Tesla factory in February, and subsequently, GreenTech Malaysia, under the purview of the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA), ordered 100 of the fully electric car. The first batch of 10 landed on our shores late last month.

Image: NST

The 100 Tesla’s are not for sale to the general public, though, but exclusively for the use of government or government-linked companies through leasing or lease-to-own programmes. Well, good luck to them, because Tesla has no presence here and cannot offer any maintenance support locally, but will be doing so out of Hong Kong, where one of its largest service centres in the region is located. We also don’t have proper charging infrastructures here, so the cars are not making any long trips out of town. I’ve only ever seen one or two parking spaces in offices or malls equipped with electric charging points, and those are usually in the city or large shopping centres.

But all that might change soon. After all, the Malaysian government wants to have 100,000 electric cars on the roads by 2020. In an interview with ChannelNewsAsia, GreenTech CEO Ahmad Hadri Haris said that over the next five years, there will be 25,000 public charging stations in the country, on top of 100,000 charging points in homes and offices. The Minister of KeTTHA, Maximus Ongkili, also announced today that the 2017 Budget (to be tabled next Friday) will encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, and that includes building the charging infrastructure.

Well, that’s all well and good, but unless the costs of EV’s are brought down, few can afford them. Tax exemption for hybrid and EV’s were in place from 2011 to 2014, and managed to increase the number of hybrid cars substantially; presently, only locally assembled hybrids and EV’s receive the tax break, but there has not been enough demand for car manufacturers to convert local production lines.

Without the tax exemption, a Tesla Model S would cost RM550,000; with it, it would cost RM350,000. Okay, still far beyond the reach of the average person. How about the Nissan Leaf, which would cost RM150,000, instead of RM190,000? Still the down-payment for two or three pieces of property, which is where I’d rather put my money.

Oh, how am I forgetting that our ailing national automaker, Proton, has an all-electric Iriz that is expected to go into production by year-end? Maybe the electric Iriz will be what most of the 100,000 EVs on the Malaysian roads will be made up of, and will be how the automaker turns its fortune around.

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