M’sia to see Tesla-standard car battery by 2020

MARii and a locally listed firm are currently conducting a feasibility study

By RAHIMI YUNUS / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS

Malaysia is poised to become the first in the Asean region to produce lithium-ion battery cells for vehicles, which would be on par with those used in Tesla Inc cars.

A production plant to produce the battery cells is expected to be constructed next year, said Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) CEO Datuk Madani Sahari (picture).

He said the agency and a locally-listed firm are currently conducting a feasibility study on a prototype to assess the battery’s energy retention rate in a tropical climate country like Malaysia.

The study is expected to be completed in the next three months and a production facility could be built as early as next year, potentially in Selangor or Negri Sembilan, Madani told an automotive industry briefing for 2019 in Cyberjaya.

Upon setting up, Madani said the first battery cell could be rolled out within the following 18 months.

“The size of the battery is 18650 cells, the same size used in Tesla models.

“We hope to sell these batteries to make Malaysia a production hub of lithium-ion batteries,” he said, adding that the battery is targeted to be used in electric cars, motorcycles and commercial vehicles.

Tesla, a US-based electricvehicle (EV) maker, is seen globally as a benchmark for any company or country wanting to venture into the EV sector.

Tesla has been using 18650 cells manufactured by Panasonic Corp in its S and X car models since 2013.

At present, Daimler AG has a battery assembly plant in Thailand for Mercedes-Benz cars.

Madani said the lithium-ion battery development would prepare Malaysia towards an electromobility future.

He said original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that produce hybrid cars in the country are also keen to localise their battery parts — and that would generate a positive demand.

Meanwhile, Madani said MARii will set up an autonomous vehicle test bed in Cyberjaya by the second half of the year.

Energy-efficient vehicle (EEV) penetration is expected to reach 70% this year from 62% or 339,978 units recorded in 2018, according to statistics by MARii.

Committed localisation value is projected to improve from RM9.24 billion last year to RM12.2 billion.

Madani said parts and components export value is also anticipated to grow by about RM1 billion to RM13 billion in 2019, with major products being chassis, suspensions and rubber parts to Asean, China, the Middle East and some parts of the US.

He added that completely built-up exports are forecast to grow to RM2.5 billion in 2019 from RM2.08 registered last year.

Malaysia registered a total of RM9.89 billion of realised investments in the automotive sector for the period between 2014 and October 2018.

On a related development, Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Dr Ong Kian Ming — who was also present at the briefing — said the ministry will discuss with the Malaysian Automotive Association (MAA) this week over key issues, including EEV incentives and car pricing approvals.

MAA president Datuk Aishah Ahmad had previously claimed that some OEMs had to postpone car launches last year due to delayed approvals on pricing by the Automotive Business Development Committee.

The committee comprises members from the Finance Ministry, the Royal Malaysian Customs Department, the Malaysian Investment Development Authority and MARii.