It has gone somewhat under the radar, but the third national car project is quietly progressing in the background. According to entrepreneur development minister Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof, the government is currently in the final phase of deciding the strategic partner for the new national car project (NNCP), reported by Bernama.

The minister said that the partnership, to be inked soon, would be announced by prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. “I can’t disclose much about it yet. Just wait and see,” he told the media.

He did however stress that the NNCP will be private sector-driven and would not use public funds, adding that the ministry’s role was just to help the project gain traction. “We do not want to have to bail them out when there is trouble,” he said.

Redzuan said that so far, 145 local vendors had shown interest in the project and the type of car would be an extended-range vehicle. “We are now in an era when anyone can build cars like Dyson, for example. We are on the right track and this project is not about taking Proton’s position. It is just to push (forward) our capabilities,” he added.

This is not the first time that an “extended-range vehicle” has been mentioned. It’s another name for range extender EVs, as opposed to full battery electric vehicles such as Teslas and the Nissan Leaf. The “range extender” in question is an internal combustion engine, which powers an electric generator when the batteries are out of juice, hence the range extender moniker.

Back in August 2018, before the official NNCP announcement, Mahathir said that Malaysia will be seeking assistance from Japanese automakers for the third national car project, and he name-dropped Nissan and Toyota then.

Currently, Nissan has range extender EVs on the market. The Nissan Note e-Power – on sale in Japan since late 2016 and displayed at KLIMS 2018 by Edaran Tan Chong Motor – is technically an EV, but there’s no socket for plug-in charging like the Nissan Leaf.

Instead, there’s a 79 PS/103 Nm 1.2 litre three-cylinder engine acting solely as a generator for the 109 PS/254 Nm electric motor from the previous Leaf. The petrol engine is not connected to the driven wheels, so this isn’t like the hybrids that we know. Nissan says that the e-Power system provides the benefits of an electric motor – such as maximum torque from standstill – without the accompanying range anxiety.

Nissan is also one of the more advanced carmakers when it comes to autonomous tech (read more on its ProPilot tech here) and “semi-autonomous” was mentioned in the NNCP announcement. Could we be looking at a Nissan-backed third national car with e-Power and ProPilot tech? At this point, the dots do seem to connect.

GALLERY: Nissan Note e-Power at KLIMS 2018