While we have a spotty network of public charging stations to match our scarred roads and a prohibitive EV road tax structure that makes no sense, India just announced plans to set aside $4.6 billion US dollars in incentives for battery makers to set up shop within their borders.
Obviously, the EV race could mean up to several different things to certain people, as there are a bunch of sub-arenas surrounding this huge shift in the automotive world. Rarely does something present itself as revolutionary, but the change in transportation derived from combustion to electrical power is about as close as we’re going to get (probably) in our lifetime, or could be described as ‘transformative’ at the very least.
At the summit of this epic race is the grand prize for solving the world’s energy crisis, but that problem is unlikely to be solved by any carmaker, no matter how innovative they might think they are. Not that it matters, really, as the winners of even the smaller battles could stand to make billions as well as a monopoly lasting decades.
It’s the untamed west of the car industry all over again, only the corporations and individuals involved won’t be burdened by a change as dramatic as rearing strong horses to manufacturing intake manifolds. Cars will still be cars, albeit with a major alteration at its core.
That being said, despite electric cars being technically simpler than ones powered by thousands of explosions a minute, not to mention much easier to maintain, the technology and infrastructure required to nullify the inherent weaknesses of EVs require monumental efforts. Customers will not tolerate inconvenience, at least not enough for electric cars to reach the kind of critical mass it needs to trigger widespread adoption.
The Importance of Being First-ish
For the moment, the centre of all this hinges on the production and availability of lithium-ion batteries. Imperfect as the technology may be, it is the best answer we have so far to storing electrical energy in a cost-effective, high volume way.
China, without a doubt, is the leading producer of this new resource thanks to a robust manufacturing sector, accounting for roughly 80 percent of worldwide output despite relatively small deposits of lithium ore relative to its land area. India, as mentioned, has pledged that $4.6 billion US Dollars in order to sway some industry players away from their continental neighbour while slowly building a pool of technical expertise along the way.
If things play out as they want it to, they could secure themselves a comfortable position as the second-largest producer of lithium-ion cells, an industry upon which many others depend. If EV ownership continues to proliferate, for example, automakers would be brought to their knees without a steady supply of batteries, not to mention any form of portable consumer electronics (smartphones, laptops, the list goes on…).
Laying The Groundwork
Malaysia doesn’t have the raw population or the buried natural resources to compete on raw lithium output, but it can be a pioneer in other aspects to stay ahead of the curve. All it needs to do is focus on something less dumb than a government-backed flying car project.
Remember, the transition from fossil fuel to electrification is pretty much inevitable with the unknowns being exactly how we generate that electricity at such a huge scale without being overly wasteful or environmentally harmful. If only we had access to clean nuclear power, right?
With that in mind, the first order of business should be educating the public about this impending transition. And why not spur local industry at the same time by following in India’s footsteps and introducing attractive incentives for existing battery research and technology firms to invest in a Malaysian presence, or better yet introduce even more incentives for local entrepreneurs to do the same?
Meanwhile, Proton and Perodua would also need to step up by getting behind an imperative to sell the first (or first pair) of Malaysian-made hybrid or fully electric vehicles, hopefully with any and all the help they might need from the government to achieve very accessible price points.
Even the mere announcement of this will start the public chatter machine rolling on the topic, with each passing month more and more citizens will be hungry for new information on how their personal transportation can be less reliant on trips to the petrol station.
Questions and demands for a more comprehensive charging network (proprietary, subscription-based, or public) as well as battery replacement and disposal policies will no doubt follow, as will a swift wave of ruthlessly candid complaints should any party be providing lacklustre answers or solutions or services. After all, Malaysians are never shy about being vocal or voting with their wallets (or because of it).
Taking this electrification matter into our own hands means that it’ll be a rough and tumble few years, that’s for sure, but through it the chaos will subside into calm much quicker than if this transition caught us by surprise.
In the end, Malaysia will stand a much better chance of being a regional hub for post-combustion technologies with an educated society already far along the process of adaptation that also serves as a template for others in Southeast Asia.