A few months back we took an 800km road trip in a Hyundai Kona electric e-max to find out just what it was like to live with in Malaysia. While that video showed us end our journey in Penang, what we weren’t able to fit was the return journey…and all the problems we encountered with Malaysia’s EV charging network. This is that story, and this is the main issue Malaysia needs to address before we can move on to an electric future.
Could we have avoided all of this if we drove more economically, or if we planned things a little better? Maybe. But the thing is that shit happens sometimes and things don’t go according to plan.
When that happens with a regular ICE car, you just make an extra fuel stop. With an EV, you have to invest at least 30 minutes to an hour—and that’s if the charging station works. For me, after trying to live with a full EV in Malaysia for the first time, I’d say I face four major challenges.
The first is that the app ecosystem is a bit of a nightmare. There are so many different apps that you will need to have with you just so you can locate a charger, and a couple more that you will need to pay for that charging. Yet, despite how crucial these apps are, some of them are quite unreliable. The ChargEV app, for example, apparently can’t tell us when a station is under maintenance or out of operation. There were even several instances where the status of a charging point was Unknown. What? Why is that even an option?
For us, the most reliable app was PlugShare because it’s like foursquare for chargers. It uses crowdsourced information so you also get useful tips like what kind of ports are available and what to tell the guard if you want to charge among others.
Number two, the charging providers are also as varied as the apps. You have people like ChargEV who offer subscription plans, then there’s JomCharge, and ParkEasy who offer pay as you use services. Shell is also doing their own thing, and there are even independent providers like certain car dealers, residences and companies like ABB who offer charging on their premises.
As a result I’m never sure if I’m supposed to be where I am, or if I’m even allowed to charge. The ABB charger I visited in Sunway, for example, was in their warehouse, and the gate was closed when I pulled up to it. There was nobody in the lot and I had no idea if I had to pay for it or not.
Adding on to that uncertainty are the charging ports. If you thought Lightning and USB-C was confusing, well you definitely won’t want an EV. there’s A/C and D/C current, CHAdeMO, Type 2, and CCS charging ports—there are just so many numbers and letters you have to be familiar with when you start your EV journey that it just makes the bar for entry so much higher.
It’s just so drastically different than pulling up to a petrol station and filling up. But I think the thing that’s just the most…most Malaysian thing is people hogging charging stations. It just feels really bad as an EV driver when you pull up to a fast-charger desperate for charge and find a PHEV plugged in 10 hours ago.
What are you charging? You’ve got a double A battery powering your car and a PETROL ENGINE. You don’t need to be plugged in for hours, EV drivers do. But I get it, parking is hard to find and these typically empty EV lots are so conveniently located at the entrance of a mall. Plus, we wouldn’t have nearly as many charging points without PHEVs.
So I’ve come to bargain. Dear PHEV drivers, if you want to hog a charger, please hog one of the slow ones. Please leave the fast 22kW chargers to the full EV vehicles because sometimes they drive from Penang to KL and don’t have enough juice to make it home. At the end of the day, is it possible to live with an EV in Malaysia?
For me, the answer is kind of, but if you’re not interested in picking up the steep learning curve or if you have battery anxiety, I wouldn’t. Malaysia’s problem isn’t not having enough EVs or vehicles with good range, it’s a systemic and infrastructure problem. And unfortunately that’s much harder to fix than simply buying a new car.