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Electric Vehicle Adoption In Malaysia: Go Or No Go? 

The adoption of electric vehicles (EV) in Malaysia is set to hit an all-time high in 2023 and may even exceed Fitch Solutions’ forecast of a 45.6% jump in sales to 4,449 units in 2023, thanks to more government incentives and affordably-priced EV models[1].

Indeed, the demand for EVs has seen a surge in recent years, especially among a more environmentally-minded generation.

But are EVs truly worth their price? Are they currently practical in Malaysia? And are they really a better alternative to their gasoline-powered counterparts?

What Defines An Electric Vehicle And How Do They Work?

In today’s automotive landscape, an electric vehicle or EV is a vehicle that uses an electric drive motor for propulsion, i.e. driving. This broad definition, which technically encompasses a number of powertrain setups, includes hybrid vehicles[2].

Hybrid vehicles burn fossil fuel to power the vehicle’s internal-combustion engine, which subsequently plays a part in generating the electricity needed to power the car’s electric drive motor (an onboard battery pack stores this energy).

Plug-in-hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) take this same concept and add the option to pull power from an external source, such as the energy grid itself, courtesy of an external charge port. PHEVs allow for short-range operation on battery power alone. Once enough of the battery’s energy is drained, PHEVs rely on the gasoline engine to serve as a generator and/or power source for the drive wheels[2].

All-electric vehicles (AEV) meanwhile, use internal batteries to generate energy without producing emissions. There are currently two options for AEVs: hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (HFCVs or FCEVs) and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). The former setup uses onboard fuel cells to react with hydrogen fuel (stored in an onboard tank) with oxygen to produce electricity to power such a vehicle’s electric drive motor. The combination of these two chemicals (hydrogen and oxygen) results in HFCVs exhausting water vapour[2].

The limited availability of HFCVs means that BEVs are the most viable option for those looking to switch to an emissions-free car. Similar to PHEVs, BEVs feature an external charge port that allows owners to charge their car’s onboard battery pack using energy from an external source. This source is the local energy grid. 

Unlike PHEVs, BEVs have no internal combustion engine (ICE) onboard to serve as a generator or propulsion source. Without an ICE to lug around, BEVs feature larger-capacity battery packs that allow them to drive farther between charges[2].

Weighing The Pros And Cons 

Electric vehicles do carry many benefits as compared to their gasoline-powered counterparts, and yet it does come with disadvantages as well.

Are Electric Vehicles Really Environmentally-Friendly?

While experts broadly agree that plug-in vehicles are a more climate-friendly option than traditional vehicles, they can still have their own environmental impacts, depending on how they’re charged up and manufactured[3].

Energy efficiency refers to the amount of energy from the fuel source that is converted into actual energy for operating the wheels of a vehicle.

AEV batteries convert 59 to 62% of energy into vehicle movement while gas-powered vehicles only generate between 17 and 21%.

This means that charging an AEV’s battery puts more towards actually powering the vehicle than filling a gas tank.
Less range:
EVs generally travel shorter distances than gas-powered cars. Most models range between 60 and 120 miles per charge and some luxury models reach ranges of 300 miles per charge.

For comparison, gas-powered vehicles will average around 300 miles on a full tank of gas, and more fuel-efficient vehicles get much higher driving ranges.

Reduced emissions:
As EV rely on a rechargeable battery, driving an electric car does not create any tailpipe emissions, which are a major source of pollution in countries like Malaysia.

In addition, the rechargeable battery means much less money spent on fuel, meaning all energy can be sourced domestically (and often through renewable energy resources such as solar panel systems).
Longer recharge times:
Fully recharging the battery pack with a Level 1 or Level 2 charger can take up to eighty hours, and even fast charging stations take 30 minutes to charge to 80% capacity.

Electric car drivers have to plan more carefully because running out of power can’t be solved by a quick stop at the gas pump. Currently, there are only 900 charging points in Malaysia.
Good performance with low maintenance:
EVs are high-performance vehicles whose motors are not only quiet and smooth but require less maintenance than internal combustion engines such as oil changes.

AEV motors also react quickly making them responsive with good torque. Brakes won’t wear as quickly, either, so you won’t need to replace pads as often as you do on a normal car.

EVs usually have a higher price tag upfront, though you can save money owning an EV over time since there is generally less maintenance on an EV and it’s less expensive to charge than fuel with gas.

Also, while battery packs are more expensive in EVs than conventional vehicles, they last a significant amount of time and come with 8-10 year warranties.

Even the cheapest EV offered in the market, the 2022 Ora Good Cat costs under RM140K.
Tax credits and incentives:
EVs can come with federal tax credits and other state and local incentives that can help reduce initial purchasing costs.

As announced in the first tabling of the budget last October, the government is providing manufacturers of EV charging equipment 100% income tax exemption from the year of assessment 2023 to 2032.

Thanks to incentives put in place by the government, EVs are currently exempted from road tax from January 1, 2022, until December 31, 2025.
Electricity still costs money:

EV ownership doesn’t eliminate fuel costs. Electricity is still expensive — and charging during peak hours can add to your utility bills.

Installing an AC charger would cost around RM3,000 – RM5,000 for a 7kW and RM5,000 – RM7,900 for a 22kW one excluding the labour costs.

As mentioned above, electric cars generally produce far fewer planet-warming emissions than gas-powered vehicles on average.

For example, an all-electric Chevrolet Bolt can be expected to produce 189 grams of carbon dioxide for every mile driven over its lifetime, on average. By contrast, a gasoline-fueled Toyota Camry is estimated to produce 385 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. A recently released Ford F-150 pickup truck, which is even less fuel-efficient, emits 636 grams of carbon dioxide per mile[3].

On the other hand, if the Bolt is charged up on a coal-heavy grid, such as what Malaysia is currently using, it can actually be a bit more harmful to the climate than a modern hybrid car like the Toyota Prius, which runs on gasoline but uses a battery to bolster its mileage. (The coal-powered Bolt would still beat the Camry and the F-150, however)[3].

Coal tends to be the critical factor. If you’ve got electric cars in Pittsburgh that are being plugged in at night and leading nearby coal plants to burn more coal to charge them, then the climate benefits won’t be as great, and you can even get more air pollution. – Jeremy Michalek, professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University[3]

We must also consider the construction of EVs. The lithium-ion cells that power most electric vehicles rely on raw materials — like cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements – and they have been linked to grave environmental and human rights concerns.

Mining cobalt produces hazardous tailings and slags that can leach into the environment. Studies have found high exposure in nearby communities, especially among children, to cobalt and other metals. Extracting the metals from their ores also requires a process called smelting, which can emit sulphur oxide and other harmful air pollution[3].

At least 70% of the world’s cobalt supply is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the mineral being sourced from unregulated “artisanal” mines where workers – that consist of children risking their health and safety – dig the metal from the earth using only hand tools.

Lithium is largely procured from Australia or from the salt flats in the regions of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. The operations use large amounts of groundwater to pump out the brines, using water resources available to Indigenous farmers and herders. Thus, producing these EV batteries is about 50% more water-intensive than traditional vehicles[3].

The deposits of rare earth minerals, concentrated in China, often contain radioactive substances that can emit radioactive water and dust.

There is also the issue of preventing EV batteries from piling up as they reach the end of their lifetime.

The lithium-ion batteries that most EVs use can store more energy in the same space than older, more commonly- utilized lead-acid battery technology. But they also have far lower recycling rates despite containing valuable minerals that can be recovered and reused. Furthermore, depending on the process used, battery recycling can also consume large amounts of water or emit air pollutants[3]

While electric cars themselves may not have a large environmental footprint, the same cannot be said for their production and their end-of-life recycling as seen above.

Is Malaysia Currently Friendly For Electric Vehicles?

Malaysia is experiencing a rise in the demand for electric vehicles. This is further encouraged by the introduction of tax incentives as well as the potential launch of more affordably-priced EVs.

Datuk Aishah Ahmad, the president of the Malaysian Automotive Association (MAA) reported that as of October 2022, a total of 2,093 units of EVs had been registered. It is expected that passenger EV sales in Malaysia will jump by 45.6% in 2023 to 4,449 units[4].

During the tabling of Budget 2023 last year, it was also announced that fully-imported (CBU) electric vehicles (EVs) would be exempt from import and excise duties until December 31, 2024[5].

Other incentives currently in place include locally-assembled (CKD) EVs, which are exempt from excise duty and sales tax until December 31, 2025, while the components used to build them are exempt from import duty – all EVs are also exempt from road tax until said date[5].

Despite these attempts to incentivise EVs and raise their demand, Malaysia still has a problem with the availability of EV charging stations. Malaysia aims to install 10,000 EV charging stations by 2025. Although there are currently 900 public charging stations available[6], they are still struggling to keep up with the growth in EV demand.

Our initial target for [2022] was 5,000 EV charging stations nationwide, but the number is still less than 1,000. Efforts are being done now with the government calling all stakeholders to meet. This will allow us to look into ways to increase the number of charging stations. – Datuk Ahmad Amzad Hashim, science, technology and innovation (MOSTI) deputy minister[7]


Already, people are struggling with long queues at direct-current fast-charging (DCFC) stations located along the PLUS Malaysia-operated North–South Expressway (NSE). And the delays in implementing more DCFC stations have not helped in this regard[8].

According to the PEKEMA (Malay Vehicle Importers and Traders Association of Malaysia) DCFC network, there are currently fewer than 20 DC chargers installed. This is a far cry from the 1,000 DC chargers that the association plans to install across the country by 2025. Many of the pending sites awaiting electricity supply upgrades from Tenaga Nasional Berhad[8].

The limited availability of fast-charging stations means that fully-electric cars are less than practical for long-distance travel in Malaysia, although hybrids are less affected by having gas-powered engines to fall back on.

Ultimately, the adoption of electric vehicles in Malaysia will inevitably increase. However, it must be remembered that while electric cars have a smaller carbon footprint than their gas-powered counterparts, they are not totally environmentally friendly. Furthermore, with the limited availability of fast-charging stations, a hybrid electric vehicle will be far more practical for us than a fully-electric vehicle.

Explore our sources: 

  1. T. Huong. (2023). EV adoption in Malaysia set to hit new high. Star Car Sifu. Link.
  2. B. Mcaleer. (2022). Pros and Cons of Electric Cars. Car and Driver. Link.
  3. H. Tabuchi & B. Plumber. (2021). How Green Are Electric Vehicles? New York Times. Link.
  4. T. Huong. (2022). EV demand seen to soar in 2023. The Star. Link.
  5. G. Lye. (2023). More EV incentives to be included in revised Budget 2023, says Nik Nazmi – tabling to happen on Feb 24. Link.
  6. Bernama. (2023). Nik Nazmi: Malaysia to install 10,000 EV charging points by 2025. Malaymail. Link.
  7. A. Lim. (2022). Still less than 1,000 EV charging stations in Malaysia, infrastructure development has to speed up – MOSTI. Link.
  8. G. Lye. (2022). EV owners in Malaysia already facing queues at DC chargers – we need more DCFCs on highways soon. Link.

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