Electric vehicles: Coordinate efforts for benefits to people and nation

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 17 Nov 2020

Relative to developed and developing countries, Electric Vehicle (EV) displacement of combustion engine vehicles in Malaysia has been lagging. Out of about 14.5 million cars, only 0.002 percent of them are pure EVs, compared to 2% in Singapore. Both Singapore and the UK will ban combustion engine vehicles by 2040.

The number of MG ZS ZE EVs sold in Chiangmai is already several times the amount of all EVs currently in Malaysia, with MG planning a factory to assemble the MG ZS ZE in Thailand in 2021. Hyundai has started investing in EV manufacturing and assembly in Singapore and Indonesia.

There are three main factors contributing to EV penetration: user demand, regulations and distributorship.

There is user demand locally, e.g. all 25 Mini EVs imported were sold quickly.

Regulations, though, have room for improvement and require coordinated effort, e.g.

1) Import duty reduction or tax incentives for EVs, related parts and chargers, especially if the distributor/assembler provides benefits, such as:

i. Local content;

ii. Investment in local assembly or manufacture of EV batteries, powertrains and/or chargers;

iii. Investment in local recycling, reconditioning and/or re-use of EV batteries;

iv. Cost of battery replacement no more than 10% higher than average cost of similar battery replacement at other countries. This is to reduce profit taking seen among distributors, i.e. to reduce the financial burden of EV first-mover consumers looking to upgrade batteries;

v. Investment in EV technician training/certification and local workshop certification (e.g. “ZE certification” by Renault). The EV technician training certification shall be recognised by every workshop globally for that EV make. While this may result in migration to higher paying countries, the benefits are that if the technician chooses to stay, local EV users benefit by having available certified local expertise who can replace/ upgrade EV batteries at affordable cost;

vi. Technical institutes open to staff and public to register for training with syllabi that allow students to “hit the ground running” in an EV ecosystem. Other than EV technician certification, it could offer training and certification for EV chargepoint and network setup, programming, operations, maintenance. The objective would be to codify such training and make it publicly and widely available, for a reasonable official fee.

2) Reduction of JPJ road tax. Taxing EVs based on motor kW equivalent seems misguided: EVs do not pollute locally at any kW or when idling, compared to thermal displacement engines.

3) Allowing EV Chargepoint operators to bill by kWh via simplified, affordable chargepoint license from ST. Currently they are prohibited to bill by kWh unless they have a distribution license, which entails declaration of maximum demand (MD) and location of premises. Even if operators knew MD and address of each charging station, the cost for every distribution application and license becomes prohibitive.

ST can go a step further by also offering a chargepoint license for V2G chargepoints. As a preliminary step, the license could allow the EV user and chargepoint operator to negotiate the kWh trading price and timing individually, but can also contain a clause stating that the licensee has an obligation to allow control of the V2G charger by local power utilities or by ST in future if instructed. This helps future-proof energy security. At scale, Singapore’s EV population in 2040 if V2G connected will more than offset the mooted 1.6GW Bakun connection. Going EV and V2G with dynamic tariff allows more energy independence.

4) LLM could update their design guideline for RSAs and Laybys to make EV chargepoints mandatory, i.e. having the same requirement status as petrol kiosks in their guidelines for concessionaires to follow.

5) The Education Ministry in concert with vocational training providers can revamp their Automotive-related training and educational syllabus by including mandatory content on safe and competent replacement of EV batteries. An SKM qualification/license focusing on EV conversions to JPJ requirements would be in great demand: many ICE technicians can be redeployed to own their own businesses with that license. Modules relating to environmental sustainability could start developing syllabi on key requirements, concepts and analysis for battery manufacturing, recycling, cooling and testing criteria. Modules relating to AI and remote sensing could include key content on and tools to design self-driving vehicles. Coding academies and national IT syllabi could include app and backend programming applicable to networked chargepoints. Power electronics labs can invest in equipment to build/test DCFCs. Higher education projects can focus on local DCFC design and cost reduction. Though both India and China have eclipsed others in budget EV manufacturing, the race is still on for affordable and reliable DC Fast Chargers (DCFCs) with OCPP (network) compatibility.

6) To support local EV conversion registrations, JPJ could study UNECE and UK regulations for EV conversions to surgically select which checks and tests are minimum requirements for converted EVs to become registerable with JPJ, and share their findings with SKM training providers mentioned in (5) above.

Distributorships seem reluctant to import EVs, citing lack of demand and poor EV charging infrastructure. Informally, they will admit that EVs are less profitable than thermal combustion vehicles, which require regular workshop visits and significant maintenance budgets which buoy their after-sales departments. To address this concern, the local ICE industry with supporting regulations and education can start upgrading and transforming competencies, product offerings and supply chains. It is in the interest of benefiting people, nation and environment towards a more sustainable future with higher standard of living.

Some may argue Malaysia is disadvantaged due to higher salaries than Thailand, little raw material for batteries relative to Indonesia, brain-drained to others, so no point aiming to compete. The counter to this argument is why then did semiconductor companies like Motorola, Intel and Fairchild choose Malaysia? Because the cost/benefits looked attractive. If efforts are made to learn the EV industry and tweak incentives to encourage related investment, the cost-benefits can improve. Based on where recent EV-related investments went, cost/benefits seem better in other countries.

With supporting regulations and distributorships, educational syllabi can be revamped, more personnel can be retrained for EV ecosystem work and R&D, and a healthy EV supply chain with related manufacturing can develop. The Civil service and GLCs responsible for EV-related investments must go for such training too to enable better decision-making, e.g. all EVs for heavy use must have active/liquid battery cooling and battery warranties, and Sirim approved kWh meters for Charging Stations specified from the beginning rather than being a contention later, delaying infrastructure progress. The government can then mandate similar targets for EVs by 2040, or earlier/later dates. The people and nation could then look forward to air even cleaner than experienced during MCO traffic reduction, and possibly contribute to supply affordable DCFCs globally.


Kuala Lumpur

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