Electric vehicles as official cars at Lima?

There are many small things that the government can do to get the country back into relevance over electric vehicles, and allay concerns that Malaysia is being left behind by EV investments flowing to Thailand and Indonesia,

Some can be symbolic gestures, as carried out by Indonesian president Joko Widodo who drove an electrified Hyundai Genesis G80 to promote the G20 summit in Bali this coming November.

That photo opportunity sent a powerful message and reminded the world about Indonesia as a modern economy leveraging its wealth of battery metals into the new age of decarbonisation.

Also, it’s generally conceded that governments are the biggest fleet operators of cars in their respective nations taking into account all their various ministries, agencies and GLCs.

The defence exhibition Lima 2023 could be low-hanging fruit for promoting the electrification of official cars for important international events, says Junaizee Mohd Noor of the newly formed Zero Emission Vehicle Association of Malaysia.

An early adopter of EVs, Junaizee said that employing electric vehicles in official government summits or meetings tells the world community that Malaysia is relevant in the EV world and is targeting the transport sector as one of its ways to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Coincidentally, Junaizee is in charge of Tenaga Nasional’s initiative to nurture the decarbonisation of the transport sector via electrification.

“Adding the official VIP cars to meetings can easily add to these statistics,” he said.

“Based on past statistics, the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition usually uses 450 cars to transport guests and delegates. The government should request the organisers of Lima 2023 that one of the necessary conditions be that only EVs be used as official cars,” he told FMT.

The longer-term plan obviously is that the government can request its ministries, agencies and GLCs to electrify a certain percentage of its annual fleet replacement and expansion volume.

In the case of DRB Hicom which owns Pos Malaysia, the fleet of postman’s motorcycles should gradually be phased out and replaced by electric bikes.

The government’s demand for electric 2-wheelers should spice up the lives of Malaysian Vehicle Type Approved (VTA) road-legal EV bike manufacturers including Eclimo, NIU, and Treelectrik.

But in the context of having a bigger variety of electric vehicles in Malaysia, especially entry-level small China-made EVs, the bigger question is why aren’t there that many in Malaysia compared to Thailand and Indonesia.

The narrative is that Malaysia’s government policy in EV is not competitive versus Thailand which offers EV purchase subsidies from about RM8,000 to RM20,000 or Indonesia’s attraction to EV makers like Tesla and EV battery manufacturers like Samsung as a nation rich in nickel.

But is that perception accurate or could it be that there are other factors, including a conspiracy to suppress entry-level Made-in-China EVs.

While a malicious intent to keep out Made-in-China EVs would be sensational to write about, the probability is that there are a variety of agendas by different actors in the government and in the corporate automotive sector.

On one level is the “don’t rock the boat” attitude.

The established automotive industry participants know that the entry-level car makers from China comply with different standards recognised by Malaysian government agencies. But they’re not telling because this would benefit the competition.

That leads to the question of what the government is doing about it.

This is the elephant in the room that should easily be fixed by transport minister Wee Ka Siong. The Road Transport Department (JPJ) should review its standards and processes to include the CE standard of European Union certification in its stable.

A senior official from the Malaysia Automotive Robotics and Internet of Things conceded that it might take some time for the transport ministry to be more inclusive of other EV standards.

Malaysia’s vehicle standards regulatory framework recognises only the United Nations Regulations. It is understood that most of China’s hundreds of EV car manufacturers adopt the CE standard instead of the UNR100.

On the other hand, big players such as Zhejiang-Geely, China’s biggest privately owned carmaker, and Dong Feng, China’s largest government-owned car maker have the scale and global ambition to obtain both UNR100 and CE standards.

Dirty dealing on old registration numbers

The need to update the Road Transport Department goes beyond revamping the system to recognise the implications of decarbonisation of the transport sector.

Within its corp of workers, there are still some mischievous workers in the JPJ who exploit the database of car registration numbers and offer for sale registration numbers of vehicles which have long since rusted into a pile of dust.

The 1950s and 1960s era vehicle registration numbers are openly offered for sale in used car sales portals like Mudah.

Instead of losing a valuable resource of old registration number plates to naughty officers and brokers, the transport minister should ask his officers to seriously update the JPJ’s database and take back old licence plates and put them for sale to the highest bidder.

On that note, a historic and desirable registration number, W1 from the days of Province Wellesley, remains currently valid, with road tax paid up to date. Its owner, William Chong, a pioneer of the DRB Hicom group under the late Yahaya Ahmad, confirms that the plate is not for sale.