THIS MAY COME as a surprise to many, but Penang has been pioneering Malaysia’s electric vehicle (EV) industry since 2008, and this was with the establishment of Eclimo.
Eclimo is the first 100% Malaysian-owned EV private company in the country which specialises in the production of e-scooters. Inspired by how the late Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew was given distributorship for Honda motorcycles – these motorcycles were first sold in Penang and later expanded nationwide – co-founder and director of Eclimo Dennis Chuah believes two-wheelers should also be given their fair share of attention in the development of EVs.
“When the idea of mass producing EVs started to gain traction, people were only talking about manufacturing electric cars. Motorcycles were all but forgotten.” This spurred Chuah, who is also a keen motorcycle enthusiast, to establish Eclimo’s headquarters in Penang, in an ambitious attempt to achieve a new milestone for the local motorcycle industry.
The first five years was spent on R&D of its electric technology, and before long, approval was obtained from the Road Transport Department to launch the first electric scooter, the ES11.
Eclimo is so named to capture the company’s vision of promoting a sustainable eco-friendly lifestyle and mobility, creatively combining the first two letters of the words: eco, life and mobility.
Setting up Eclimo’s headquarters in Penang, with its relatively low start-up cost and the wide availability of industry talents, proved to be a wise business move. “Once called the Silicon Valley of the East, we figured that manufacturing EVs could be the next major industry for Penang to regain its shine,” says Liew Chung Peng, Chuah’s business partner and company co-founder.
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However, since the launch of the ES11 in 2012, sales have been largely hampered by a lack of awareness among Malaysian consumers of the benefits of e-scooters. Chuah believes that an informed public needs the backing of the federal government. This can be achieved through myriad means, from implementing national policies to promote the use of and knowledge about EVs, to providing incentives to manufacturers and facilitating discounts on retail prices of EVs nationwide.
Despite a low sales margin, the business remains resilient. Eclimo generates revenue mainly by renting out its e-scooters to logistics and delivery service providers such as KFC and DHL. “We are also currently negotiating with AirAsia, which is planning to enter into the food delivery business, to rent out a fleet of our scooters to their staff,” says Chuah.
The brand’s direct-drive electric motors have also been purchased by Kenyir Eco Resort that operates a floating hotel consisting of boat houses in Terengganu’s Kenyir Lake, to power their motorboats and to supply electric power to hotel rooms and amenities. Likewise, these motors have inspired the creation of battery packs. As a portable and rechargeable power outlet, the battery pack functions as an electric generator. It is now popularly used by Penang’s night market vendors.
An Impactful Presence in ASEAN and Beyond
Eclimo is also an active participant in several feasibility studies conducted across Southeast Asia. In Siem Reap, to reverse environmental degradation caused by unregulated mass tourism, the ES11 was introduced to tuk-tuk riders under the Unesco sustainable tourism programme which are now used to ferry tourists to Angkor Wat and other ancient temple complexes nearby.
“We are heartened by the success in Cambodia and have directed our focus on replicating the programme in George Town, to tackle the air and noise pollution here,” says Chuah. “With the state government’s aim to transform 50% of Penang’s motorcycles on the road into electric ones as part of the Penang2030 vision, we are eager to facilitate this mobility transition after years of ongoing R&D.”
Aside from its Cambodian venture, Eclimo has also introduced its ES11 scooters to garbage-collecting companies in Ho Chi Minh City, to collect and transport garbage bins on mobile containers from neighbourhoods with narrow alleyways through which garbage trucks are unable to pass.
These successes have also landed Eclimo on Iran’s radar. The country is renowned for its maze-like bazaars and Eclimo was approached with plans on purchasing a fleet of its e-scooters for goods transport in the huge marketplace. Unfortunately, the deal fell through, due to logistical issues and the relatively high cost of setting up a factory in Iran.
Still, these achievements are a good reminder of the impact Eclimo’s eco technology has made in the world of EV.
Cheap Fossil Fuel Remains a Hindrance
Arguably, Malaysia’s low fuel prices render an immediate transition to EVs unnecessary. “Potential customers are startled when they see the price tag of Eclimo’s e-scooters. But think of it this way, in the long run, owning an e-scooter actually saves you more money since there is no longer the need to refuel the scooter,” says Liew. “But sadly, it is difficult to change mind-sets.”
Cambodia's e-tuk-tuk. Photo: Eclimo
Renewable energy technologies are the future, and it is the one area Malaysia needs to look into properly if the country’s industrialisation sector is to be augmented and bulwarked against unexpected crises.
“In Taiwan when EV companies such as Gogoro began producing e-scooters, substantial subsidies were given by the government to ensure the businesses’ survival during the initial period,” says Chuah. These grants are ultimately to help home-grown companies expand, with the hope that one day their EVs will be marketed internationally. “Once the company stabilises and is able to self-sustain, the subsidies gradually decrease.”
Perhaps Malaysia can look to Taiwan and even Vietnam as examples where EVs are fully embraced. Vietnam is one of ASEAN’s leading EV companies today; the private automotive start-up manufacturer VinFast is helping close to 96 million motorbike riders in the country go green.
“I am hopeful that the government’s recently expressed aim to embrace EV technologies can be continued into the future, and that it is not just short-term enthusiasm on their part.”