We spoke to Mercedes-Benz Malaysia’s Head of Sales & Marketing, Michael Jopp, just days after the shock announcement that could transform the zero-emissions vehicle market in the country - a direction that the German automaker is very publicly leaning into.
Mercedes-Benz faces a potentially booming electric vehicle market in Malaysia and is poised to carve out a strong early lead, following the Budget 2022 announcement that EVs will enjoy a range of benefits, everything from being essentially duty-free nationwide and exempt from road tax.
The October 29th announcement to shape the country’s government allocation of funds and supporting policies certainly was lengthy but carried unusual weight when it came to the fate of the country’s automotive sector.
Fresh in the wake of this seemingly sweeping change, the team at Mercedes-Benz Malaysia has had little time to react to the new set of circumstances. However, Jopp believes that the government’s new stance on EVs can only play into the company’s existing roadmap, both here locally and on the wider global stage as more countries enact similar policies to stimulate adoption.
Previously, in mid-year 2019, Mercedes-Benz had brought their first fully electric production vehicle, the EQC, onto Malaysian shores to gauge the response by both the media and potential customers as the vehicle was on its worldwide PR tour/demonstration programme at the time.
The electric SUV was futuristically styled and featured a 405PS and 765Nm dual-motor (AWD) setup that was powered by a somewhat modest 80kWh battery rated for 417km of range (WLTP), saddled with an estimated retail price of somewhere in the RM600,000 region. Sadly, circumstances prevented the model actually reaching local customers, but that had not dampened the ambitions of Mercedes-Benz Malaysia.
Though the country might not have been ready to embrace an EV proudly bearing the three-pointed star at the time, the German marque’s local arm would be persistent, quietly confident of a more favourable set of conditions in the near future.
In 2022, that’s exactly what seems to be happening. Now with a group-wide commitment to EVs for all to see and a much more robust line-up of EQ vehicles with more on the way, Mercedes-Benz is in a much better position than its rivals to establish itself as ‘THE’ premium purveyor of a post-combustion motoring lifestyle.
According to Jopp, such plans were already on the cards for the Malaysian market and Southeast Asia in general, though they did not expect the Budget 2022 announcement to lay so much groundwork in one evening - at least verbally.
Cars like their flagship EQS and EQE will be looked at for local viability, of course, but are much less of a priority for MBM. Instead, the bigger long-term prize will be to lead the ‘adoption charge’ by offering smaller, more competitively priced EVs.
These include electric versions of established and popular models, those already familiar to their Malaysian customers, such as the EQA (based on the GLA-Class) and the EQB (based on the GLB-Class).
Though their shared MFA2 platform technology does limit the degree to which the most advanced EV tech can be implemented, it does make development and more regular model year updates more cost-effective.
Localisation will also be made much easier, though Jopp has confirmed that all Mercedes-Benz electric vehicles will be fully imported for the foreseeable future. Still, they’re not ruling out the possibility of local assembly should the demand for extra volume be found.
The EQA, for example, still features enough raw powertrain configurability with the capacity for dual motors, 260hp, and a 66.5kWh battery. As of now, though, only a single 190PS front-drive EQA 250 is being produced at Mercedes-Benz’s Rastatt facility in Germany’s southwest corner.
Going forward, Jopp continued, the larger arching goal here is to reduce the cost of entry into the EV space. Though Mercedes-Benz isn’t exactly known for such things, they do acknowledge the huge potential should the brand be able to make the EQ range as price comparable to their combustion-powered cars.
With the exception of cars like the Nissan Leaf and newly launched Kona Electric, there is a big gap in the Malaysian EV market at the moment with potential customers presented with only high-end models from different manufacturers. And even then, they are most often grey import units with little or no after-sales support, leaving buyers to fend for themselves when it comes to encountering mechanical issues and maintenance.
It will be a while before Mercedes-Benz Malaysia can offer their EQA and EQB alongside the GLA and GLB at very similar or identical prices for their corresponding trim level, equipment, and capability, but as Jopp confirms, MBM is excited at the prospect to even bring that option to the table sooner than its closest competitors.
Exciting times ahead!
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