Eight out of 10 Malaysian drivers want to see more electric vehicles (EVs) on the road, according to a recent survey by BMW Group. That’s a pretty high figure, right? However, 59% of those polled say they will still buy internal combustion engine (ICE) powered cars next. So, EVs are good and more people should buy, but let them buy first while I wait and see – how very Malaysian.

Here are a few points from the online survey, which polled 4,000 drivers from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand to further understand familiarity and preference toward EVs among drivers in our region. Other topics explored included attitudes toward the impact of EVs on the environment as well as factors that would motivate people to buy an EV.

First, Malaysia is a highly car-dependent country with one of the highest car ownership rates in Southeast Asia. 85% of respondents said that they drive every one to three days, either to and from the office (74%), run daily errands (65%), or travel on the weekends (36%).

Then, 80% of Malaysian drivers desire to see more EVs on the road, with the hope of contributing to a more environmentally conscious world. Reduced carbon emissions (72%), cost savings from using electricity instead of petrol (49%) and a more premium experience (40%) are some of the key benefits cited by drivers who see the merits of more EVs on Malaysian roads.

However, the Malaysians in the survey also say that they will likely choose a petrol vehicle (59%) for their next purchase, despite the motivations to go the EV route. Common concerns included the driving range of EVs, maintenance costs as well as the difficulty in keeping their EVs charged.

Specifically, 33% of survey respondents believe that EVs can only travel up to 100 km before requiring a recharge, another 41% expect EVs to be more expensive to service or maintain over a period of 10 years, and 29% believe that charging EVs would be difficult. While the latter might be true, depending on your location and type of residence, the other two concerns are misconceptions that just aren’t true today.

Let’s talk about range. Long before EVs were mainstream, Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia brought in the i-MiEV, first as a Langkawi pilot project in 2012, then to sell commercially in 2013 (the first EV on sale in Malaysia). The i-MiEV’s NEDC range was rated at 150 km – even if you shave 20% off the official quote for a more real-world figure, it’s 120 km. So, EVs from 10 years ago were already capable of more than 100 km.

Today, the tech is better, batteries are bigger and more dense, and the current crop of EVs can do multiple times the i-MiEV’s range. Since it’s BMW’s survey, the firm’s iX3 SUV, with a 73.8 kWh battery, has WLTP range from 453 km. Priced from RM307k tax-free, it’s a bit expensive, you say.

OK, here’s something much more affordable. Starting at less than half the iX3’s price is the Hyundai Kona Electric. The starter battery for the B-segment crossover is 39.2 kWh, and that’s good for 305 km in the WLTP cycle. The top-spec RM200k 64 kWh car does 484 km, nearly five times the 100 km perceived range.

Now, even if you take 20% off those figures, the range should still be more than enough for most users. Also note that the current WLTP cycle is more real-world than the more theoretical, older NEDC standard.

As for maintenance, it’s still early days for EVs in Malaysia (the i-MiEV and first-generation Nissan Leaf did not sell in meaningful numbers), but electric cars have significantly less moving parts and wear-and-tear items compared to an ICE-powered car, and is therefore easier and cheaper to maintain. This isn’t just a blind claim – BMW Malaysia’s own price-list shows that an EV is up to 60% cheaper to maintain compared to a similarly sized ICE vehicle.

Anyway, EVs are still relatively premium and expensive in Malaysia, even with tax breaks, and it’s likely that most of the well-heeled owners will opt for the extended warranty and service package offered by the manufacturers – BMW charges around RM15k for the iX3 (five years), Hyundai RM10k for the Kona Electric (five-year/100,000 km warranty, three-year/50,000 km service).

A big question mark surrounds the EV battery, but like the hybrid cars that we’re familiar with, EVs come with long battery warranties for peace of mind – it’s eight years or 160,000 km with both Hyundai and BMW.

The third major concern around EVs is charging. Klang Valley residents would be familiar with ChargEV stations in shopping malls as well as those set up by premium brands such as BMW in malls and hotels to support their plug-in hybrid models, and now EVs. Shell is building ASEAN’s first “cross-border” charging network, and our North-South Highway will get six charging stations this quarter.

EV charging infrastructure is set to grow even faster in the coming years, with Tenaga Nasional getting into the game with PLUS, and Sime Darby looking to into the possibility of being an EV charging point operator. The latter has interest, as it’s the group behind Hyundai, BMW dealership Auto Bavaria and Porsche in Malaysia, among other car brands.

Building a wide EV charging network is government policy. Under the Low Carbon Mobility Blueprint (LCMB) 2021-2030, Malaysia plans to set up 10,000 charging stations nationwide by 2025. Of course, this will be done via collaborations within the private sector, and all of the above efforts are counted. So, they’re not “everywhere” yet, but expect to see EV charging stations popping up around us.

As motorists, we always talk about public charging and want a good network before considering EVs. Is that because we’re thinking of ICE vehicles and petrol stations? Unlike gasoline-powered cars, EVs can “fuel up” at home, just like your mobile phone, and home charging would be the main source of power, supplemented by public charging when needed. Or when you’re on a road trip.

Installing a home charger is straightforward for landed houses, but not so for high-rise dwellers. Some newer high-end condominiums have charging bays, but should the PHEV and EV population grow, queues will form.

Older buildings will have to get a collective agreement to set up chargers, and as we all know, when it comes to pooled funds, it’s hard to get everyone on the same page. This writer is in the latter category, so the greenest I can go for now is a regular hybrid.

Don’t scoff; the latest crop of hybrids offer fantastic FC and an “EV lite” experience – I managed to get over 25 km/l from mixed driving without trying hard in the Honda City RS e:HEV, for instance. Also, the i-MMD system – which is a kind of range extender EV – whirrs around in electric silence most of the time, offering the driver a stepping stone into the petrol-free future. But you can skip the taster and go for the real thing now, if setting up a home charger isn’t an issue. Here’s why we think the “waiting for public charging” argument is not really relevant.

It’s still early days in terms of EV adoption, but recently, we’ve seen strong growth in public interest, variety of models offered, and charging network. What are your thoughts on EVs? Are you planning to get one in the foreseeable future? If not, why?