The National Automotive Policy 2020 (NAP 2020) was launched by Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry to accelerate the country’s goal to be a regional leader in manufacturing, engineering, technology, and sustainable development in the automotive sector. The shift towards a connected, autonomous mobility lifestyle is a global phenomenon; hence the focus in technology and engineering to facilitate and expand the scope of the automotive sector.

While vehicle technologies started shifting towards electrification, advances in vehicle connectivity also forced a shift in business thinking within the global players. This has sparked the emergence of new ownership models – seen in car-sharing, ride-hailing, and Mobility-as- a-service.

In line with this, the NAP 2020 maintains a special focus on the development of new technologies, creation of business and jobs opportunities particularly in future mobility areas, and the development of new manufacturing processes and value chains within the mobility sector. Three new elements of technology – Next Generation Vehicle, Mobility-as-a- Service (MaaS), and Industrial Revolution 4.0 were introduced to facilitate the implementation of NAP 2020 initiatives.

It is important to note that the NAP 2020 is an update to its predecessor, which focused on Energy Efficient Vehicles (EEV). Through the NAP 2020, the concept of mobility, combined with green transportation will now influence the direction and product development, adding intelligence and connectivity features in vehicles on top of powertrain development.

The bigger and long term picture of transportation leads towards electromobility, as they are more energy efficient, and has lower cost of maintenance over the long run. However, they are also currently a high initial investment, and rapidly evolving technology causes anxiety on investment in its infrastructure.

The first major push towards electric vehicles was introduced in the 3rd version of the National Automotive Policy (NAP 2014). While pursuing the manufacture of electric vehicles, the government allowed for a temporary hiatus of import duties for hybrids and EVs (ending in 2017), as well as a collaborative effort between numerous government agencies to encourage EV sharing programmes.

This in turn sparked the first cluster of EV charging stations around the Klang Valley as well as key EV hotspots in major cities and highway stops in Peninsula Malaysia.

However, just like in other countries, the main issue is tied to range anxiety for consumers – in which the switch to electromobility required not just a change in powertrain, but also the EV lifestyle. While it would take an average of 4 minutes to pump your internal combustion vehicle full of petrol, it would take a few hours to fully charge an EV. As it was only practical to charge your car at home (or at your destination, if charging facilities are available), the utility of EVs were limited to basic commute from home to work, assuming you lived within practical range of your workplace.

The main challenge to adopt the green transport in Malaysia, would be the development of an entire ecosystem consisting of consumer change, technology investments and human expertise in new technologies that reside in EVs and its components. To address this, the government has formulated numerous strategies to achieve this, including:

  • Promote manufacturer and application of local battery and battery pack together with development of Battery Management System (BMS), and Thermal Management System (TMS).
  • Develop standards to encourage battery swapping and wireless charging.
  • Develop standards for recycling and disposal of battery.
  • Conduct feasibility study on Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology.
  • Develop EV Smart Grid Interoperability Centre.
  • Apply well-to-wheel concept in the calculation of emission of EVs.

Apart from that, there are also numerous support services that complete the EV ecosystem, including EV rentals, vehicle sharing platforms, parking services, and others – many of these are open markets for start-ups and small businesses with an aptitude for technology with lower barriers to entry. In 2019, MARii launched the MARii Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) Scale Up Programme to facilitate the adoption of MaaS related technologies and services in the domestic mobility industry to enhance the e-commerce ecosystem for mobility. The programme aims to facilitate the adoption of MaaS-related technologies and services into the domestic mobility industry.

As of July 2021, the government is currently considering an EV policy that expands the scope of current policy to include direct user incentives, including tax incentives on purchase as well as investing in personal charging facilities. Parallel to the NAP 2020, the government is also emphasising on the Low Carbon Mobility Blueprint 2021-2030, that would focus on developing the necessary charging infrastructure and tax incentives for the purchase of EVs.

To supplement these developments, MARii together with the government and the industry has already begun the establishment of the Electric Vehicle Interoperability Centre – a shared test center for the development of EVs and EV-related products and systems. An Autonomous Vehicle Test Bed is also in the works to facilitate testing autonomous vehicles and as a platform for all businesses in the mobility ecosystem to collectively design and validate their products in a single location, in collaboration with all members that contribute to the design pool for autonomous driving.

These begin with technologies needed in Level 1 and Level 2 autonomous vehicles – such as big data management systems, advanced materials, LIDAR, battery packs and cybersecurity, before focusing on more advanced technologies such as nano-materials, machine learning, V2X communication modules and ultra-fast charging at the end of the development cycle.

Through MARii, the government has also embarked on specific programmes and facilities to support the development of next generation parts and component manufacturers, through its Design Center, Academy of Technology, and the recently launched MARii Simulation & Analysis Center, completing an ecosystem that enables cloud-based product design capabilities and real-time data analysis to accelerate high-value design, cost optimisation and talent development for more automotive and mobility component manufacturers based in the country.

Our technology friendliness is exemplified with its history of technological development beds – such as the digital hub in Cyberjaya, technology parks in the Bukit Jalil, Kulim in the north, Nusajaya in the south and Gambang in the east. Cyberjaya will also be the future location for the Automated and Autonomous Connected Vehicle test bed.

Most importantly, this infrastructure and programmes support the growing critical mass of technology talents within Malaysia, preparing Malaysia for a strong future in the connected mobility sector. Our engineers, scientists and technical community at large have grown to become leaders in their respective fields, have excellent command of English and are highly loyal to their professions.

This makes Malaysia a strong contender for future investments in technological areas, in particular research and development as it is an ecosystem with potential growth beds for technical infrastructure, coupled with a pool of local talent that can support more mobility ventures, at a competitive cost – in one of most business-friendly ecosystems in the world

As mentioned in numerous columns that have provided me opportunity to share my thoughts, the Covid-19 outbreak has provided a window of opportunity for the nation’s businesses to shift business paradigms towards the strategies that are data driven, resulting in accurate business decisions – which is the true definition of digitalisation.

While the consumers’ needs will forever be the same – the Covid-19 outbreak has created urgency – and education – for the consumer to indulge in online services to fulfil those needs. For businesses, the goal is not to only satisfy this need by providing an online option but using digitalisation to better predict their needs through the data derived from the orders from customers.

This allows the business to better structure and schedule manpower, equipment and transportation needs. It also allows for better planning of materials, production and cashflow requirements through the use of trends analysis.

This understanding is the foundation of digitalisation, in which instead of becoming merely a sales portal, businesses now deploy an arsenal of applications to process and predict its entire business functions, digitally.

In this regard, MARii is taking the initiative to accelerate its entire arsenal of technology solutions, training and development programmes to allow businesses of every sector to access a value proposition of digitalisation. While the Covid-19 pandemic has opened opportunities and realisation among consumers, we must take heed to the fact that digitalisation is here to stay, and transform our business thinking in order to stay relevant in the long-term future.

Dato’ Ts. Madani Sahari is Chief Executive Officer of the Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).