PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya should formulate “radical” policies to drive Malaysia into the electric vehicle (EVs) and autonomous driving business, according to a seasoned motor industry watcher.

Former motoring journalist Yamin Vong suggested that tax rebates be provided to make electric vehicles attractive to buyers in the premium market, while for the mass market, a “cash-for-clunkers” could encourage people to trade in their jalopies.

Such ideas could help the Malaysian motor industry, particularly Proton, to benefit from a recent agreement between two major Chinese companies, Zhejiang Geely and Tencent Holdings, to develop the smart vehicle cockpit and autonomous driving technology.

Geely owns a 49.9% stake in Proton and also owns Swedish car maker Volvo.

Vong urged the government to liberalise its investment policies and allow 100% foreign ownership of high-tech processes and products across the board, as well as 100% foreign participation in motor companies instead of insisting on a joint venture with local companies.

“Malaysia’s unique proposition in the Asean auto industry is that it has an indigenous Malaysian company, Proton, which has a partnership with Zhejiang Geely group. One can imagine that Geely would like to get market share in the 660 million population Asean region by itself or in partnership with Proton,” he told FMT.

However Geely-Proton doesn’t have the price competitiveness to challenge its neighbours as its vehicle sales are less than a third of the volume in Thailand or Indonesia.

Putrajaya should change the game and develop a new automotive policy that is welcoming to investors in carbon dioxide reducing auto technology.

The government should learn from Norway, which has the biggest EV population per capita. The country charges lower taxes for low and zero-emission cars, while the parking fees and toll charges for zero-emission cars can enjoy a discount of up to 50%. There is also no annual road tax.

“And once you have a demand, Proton can be at the forefront of producing EVs. Our market is very small, but we can make it inviting.”

Allowing 100% foreign participation of motor companies could attract more foreign direct investments which would make it easier for technological transfers to happen.

“I don’t think Geely will share their new tech unless they are allowed to own a majority stake in Proton,” he said.

However, an economist, Geoffrey Williams, of Malaysia University of Science and Technology, said Geely had a reputation for encouraging synergies and sharing of knowledge and technology among its brands.

The smart vehicle cockpit and autonomous driving technology will focus more on Geely vehicles in China, and with its other sub-brands when the technology matures.

Wong Koi Nyen, an associate dean with Sunway University Business School’s Economics and Finance Department, said Geely’s collaboration with Tencent had the potential for a transfer of technical know-how to Proton.

He said Malaysia was ready for electric vehicles as long as Proton had first mover advantage by being the first to introduce a product.

“This is a new market segment that appeals to young drivers and drivers who are technology savvy,” he added.