When Can Rakyat Enjoy Electrified Cars Buatan Malaysia?


When Can Rakyat Enjoy Electrified Cars Buatan Malaysia?

As a nation, we’ve been making cars for - what - around 35 years at this point. Despite the ‘usual’ setbacks, we have gotten decently good at it and, for better or worse, various policies and incentives have kept the buatan Malaysia cars in demand at various price points.

Stumbling into 2020s, as we find ourselves now, the echoed yelp of futurists and environmentalists remind us that the era of internal combustion is drawing to a close - that cars powered by electricity are the way forward, and that we should be embracing EVs and hybrids at a quicker rate than we are now.

It’s a sentiment that we agree on in a general sense (mostly). Fossil fuel is a depleting non-renewable resource and there’s no escaping the fate of that supply running dry at some point. EVs, or even partially electric cars for that matter, do have an impressive list of advantages.

Furthermore, those plus points have been known for a very long time: zero emissions (if it’s a full EV), instant torque, and did we mention zero emissions? The Toyota Prius was the original four-wheeled darling of the go green movement and has become the archetypal hybrid vehicle. And that was first launched all the way back in 1997; 23 years ago.

Why hasn’t Malaysian cars caught up? Isn’t it high time we see a hybrid Proton or Perodua roll down the road? Better yet, a plug-in hybrid or even a fully electric vehicle. Is that even the right car to be asking for?

There’s clearly a market for PHEVs in Malaysia, evidenced by the sheer volume of people who’ve already bought one. While that kind of powertrain is still highly complex and, as such, requires both a high cost of development and end purchase price, is there a solid case to be made for either of our national carmakers to be going down this path?

The answer is also way more complex. There’s a reason why the vast majority of fully electric or electrified vehicles remain in the domain of the premium. Barring some technological breakthrough, that isn’t likely to change.

To their great credit, EVs and hybrids have made great strides of their own. They’re now able to boast of incredible electric range and have astonishing levels of performance at the high end, raising the bar even higher for what these kinds of cars are expected to deliver.

Some attributes remain constant, however, and these all factor into final cost of the vehicle. Firstly, batteries, even the modern lithium ion cells, aren’t as energy dense when compared per volume to petrol or diesel and are still prone to degredation (reduced charge capacity) over time. Secondly, their production is also dependent on non-renewable materials and require some rather dirty mining manufacturing processes.

Batteries are also heavy and very costly to produce at the kind of quantity necessary to make an electric car worth using at all, which in turn requires the manufacturer to design a wholly new platform to accommodate that many banks of cells. This is why cars like the Jaguar I-PACE, Porsche Taycan, Audi e-tron, and Mercedes-Benz EQC all sit on a purpose-built architecture specific to EVs.

Platform sharing is one of the most commonly used methods to streamline various models and dramatically reduces the cost of production at the development stage. These are savings passed on to the buyer and without it, automakers would need to recoup that expense at other levels, which is why only premium marques dare venture into this territory at all as their customers are much likelier to tolerate a higher sticker price.

As companies, these premium automakers are also the likeliest to have pockets deep enough to fund such a project and afford the expertise and training necessary to equip their workforce with the more specialised production and after-sales infrastructure.

Even if Proton and/or Perodua were hell-bent on offering a PHEV or full EV in their showrooms, they would probably need to be priced well over double of what the next most expensive car in their line-up costs. Even with moderate government subsidies and incentives, it’s hard to imagine too many Malaysians springing out of their seats to put in their order.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. While the terms ‘fully electric’ and ‘zero emissions’ is quite specific and very likely to be beyond the grasp of Malaysian-made showroom models for a few more years at the least, ‘electrification’ is very much within their reach.

As stepping stones to that goal, both Proton and Perodua could introduce cars with a diet version of EV features. Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle (MHEVs) is one that’s largely identical to the petrol or diesel-powered ones we’re familiar with, but use a miniaturised electric powertrain to aid the engine where it’s the weakest and least efficient, improving fuel economy.

Instead of a conventional starter, a higher-power electric motor/generator takes its place and allows the engine to be turned off during coasting or braking but then restarted again much quicker (a.k.a Start-Stop). Regenerative braking can also be used to further recover energy otherwise lost as heat and this can be channelled back to an integrated motor to aid acceleration at low speeds.

An MHEV system is a lot like a PHEV but without the large battery and its companion high-output electric motor which also means mild hybrids can’t be driven on electric power alone, requiring a conventional engine for propulsion.Better fuel economy and more performance with only a relatively minor bump in cost and purchase price. Seems like something Malaysians would respond very well to.

Geely already offers MHEV variants of their Borui, a D-segment sedan, which is paired to the 1.5-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder engine, the same motor slated to power the upcoming small SUV from Proton, tipped to be called the X50, and possibly leaving the door open for it to be the first ‘hybrid’ vehicle to be sold under a Malaysian badge.

If Geely and Proton put their heads together to figure out the economies of scale in producing these MHEV systems, particularly if so done within our borders, it could mean that Malaysians could reap the benefits of an electrified powertrain at some very mesra rakyat prices, perhaps even making the technology available to cars well under RM100,000. 

Jim Kem

Jim Kem

Content Producer

There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.