For self-confessed tech geek and adrenaline junkie Farhan Abdul Rahim, becoming one of the first Malaysians to own an electric car in 2020 was a no-brainer - but he didn’t simply stop there.
Last June, Farhan embarked on a three-day journey around the Malay peninsula in his Tesla - covering about 1,700km (1,050 miles) - seeking to prove that electric vehicles (EVs) can operate beyond cities and in rural parts of the Southeast Asian nation.
However, as a manager at state oil company Petronas and someone who helped the firm start considering establishing EV charging stations during coronavirus lockdowns in 2021, Farhan was acutely aware of the challenges facing such a journey.
“It’s the first time I’d done this (trip) with an EV,” said the 46-year-old who spent weeks planning what EV charging options he would have before setting off on the trip.
Farhan said he first became interested in EVs in 2017 after attending a conference for work that had a stand promoting the vehicles and featured a Tesla on display.
“(The trip) was about busting the myth and helping the EV community, who say you cannot go to the eastern part of Malaysia with an EV,” he said in an interview, referring to an often-cited lack of charging infrastructure that is seen as an obstacle to the sector’s growth in Malaysia.
Electric vehicle production and sales are surging globally, with the sector seen as key in the drive to curb climate change by cutting emissions from petrol and diesel fuel, reduce oil imports and fuel subsidies, and support investment in renewable energy sources.
It’s a sensitive thing because Malaysia is a net producer of oil. It’s a chicken and egg situation. [But] I’m not going to buy petrol. It’s going to be electric vehicles from now on.
Farhan Abdul Rahim, member, Malaysian Electric Vehicle Owners Club
More climate-conscious drivers around the world are going green, with EV and hybrid vehicles accounting for 18 per cent of global sales of four-wheeled vehicles last year, according to Rahul Gupta, an associate partner at McKinsey & Company in Singapore.
But that uptake was mostly in the United States, Europe and China, with the latter two markets at about 20 per cent and 25 per cent of sales respectively, he said.
In South Asia, EVs accounted for less than 2 per cent of sales in 2022, he explained.
A dearth of charging infrastructure outside urban centres, a lack of tax incentives and subsidies for both automakers and buyers, and slow progress on developing affordable EVs among Southeast Asia’s main manufacturers have held back the region, analysts said.