To address this, governments must introduce subsidies at the point of purchase to help buyers and provide incentives or tax breaks for carmakers to reduce production costs, Gupta said.
Last year, Thailand approved a package of incentives including tax cuts and subsidies to promote EVs, while earlier this month Indonesia said it was looking at slashing value-added tax on electric car sales to 1% from 11%.
More charging infrastructure and greater availability and choice of EVs would also help increase the appetite for these vehicles in the region, as would governments setting timelines for banning petrol and diesel vehicles, Gupta added.
While many Southeast Asian nations have ambitious net-zero plans – which include support for EVs purchases, rebates and charging infrastructure – implementation is widely uneven, said Gregory Poling, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
As in many parts of the world, the lack of charging stations outside cities is a problem, with expansion in countries such as Indonesia – an archipelago of thousands of islands – likely to be a challenge, he added.
“EVs are still a luxury item for the most part in Southeast Asia, as they are globally,” Poling said.
CLIMATE NOT A CONCERN
Greater take-up of EVs in Southeast Asian nations would help meet international climate goals and assist them in attracting companies looking to invest in nations joining the global decarbonisation push, Poling said.
In coming years, Poling predicted, Southeast Asian countries will try to position themselves as regional EV manufacturing hubs. Ample nickel reserves in Indonesia and the Philippines could play a role in making the needed batteries.
However, curbing climate change is unlikely to be the driving factor for EV growth in most of the region.
“Most of these countries, understandably, still believe rightly that they didn’t make this problem,” said Poling.
“The West made this problem, so why should they have to crimp economic growth – if that’s what it takes – in the name of switching over to green electricity generation and EVs?”
Abhilash Gupta, an automotive analyst at research firm Counterpoint, noted that production of EV batteries is unlikely to be carbon neutral, and ramped up mining and manufacturing could carry environmental and human risks.
“(Southeast Asian) nations are rushing to attract more multinational corporations and, therefore, are not adequately focusing on sustainable practices in the mining and production cycle,” he said.
Indonesia has in the last three years signed at least a dozen deals, worth more than $15 billion, for battery and EV production in the country, while President Joko Widodo has sought to convince Tesla CEO Elon Musk to invest.
‘CHICKEN AND EGG SITUATION’
For Malaysia’s Farhan, working at Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Petronas Twin Towers gives him access to underground parking and about 50 charging points – the largest single concentration of EV charging stations in the region, he says.
But switching to EVs is more difficult for the general public, especially when many condominiums refuse to install charging points or even allow home owners to do so at their own cost, he said.
Many auto dealers are also not trained well enough to promote EVs or offer basic advice for potential EV owners, he added.
However, Farhan believes greater tax incentives from the government are helping. Malaysia has import duty and excise tax exemptions for EVs and the new government is expected to announce more financial incentives in its 2023 budget this week.
Farhan, a member of the Malaysian Electric Vehicle Owners Club, said there now are about 2,400 registered EVs in the country, up from around 240 in early 2021.
He urged the government to set aggressive EV targets and establish a single body to lead the country’s EV charge – but acknowledged that the overall picture was complex.
“It’s a sensitive thing because Malaysia is a net producer of oil,” he said. “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,” he added.