THE average Malaysian spends an hour and 12 minutes on the road each day.
According to a World Economic Monitor report, traffic congestion cost Malaysians up to RM20 billion in 2015. Given that car ownership in the country rose from 26 million to 28 million in 2017, it is logical to assume that the RM20 billion figure has risen dramatically. This includes the health costs associated with driving, such as the effects of air pollution and stress.
Malaysia, unfortunately, has the third-highest road fatality rate in Asia and Asean, behind Thailand and Vietnam. Road crashes were the fourth most common cause of death in Malaysia in 2016, behind ischaemic heart disease, pneumonia and cerebrovascular disease.
If we are serious about being forward-thinking in terms of traffic mobility, we should look at projects such as Johor’s Forest City. Part of the Iskandar Malaysia project, Forest City has gotten a bad rap due to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s allegations that it would be closed to foreign buyers – but its implementation shows how a Malaysia-based tech project should be done.
Leveraging its strategic location near Singapore, Forest City is a smart city project that provides a clear example of how to resolve local problems with technology. Take, for example, its award-winning Building Information Modelling system, which integrates information modelling, IoT and AI systems to power most of the project’s automated systems, including security, maintenance and servicing, creating truly smart buildings from start to finish.
It is also designed to be car-free, and connected to what should be the gold standard in public transportation in the country, namely the Iskandar Malaysia Bus Rapid Transit system.
BRT is regarded as one of the more efficient methods of transport in urban areas as it utilises existing infrastructure, compared to the expensive need to build light rail transit or mass rapid transit tracks.
The economic benefits are also considerable, with it acting as a force multiplier, as companies looking to expand their regional operations consider moving to Johor given the access to Singapore and availability of local talent. As of 2018, Forest City funded the livelihood of some 1,350 local families, and is set to produce 9,000 more in the coming years. By 2035, it is estimated that Forest City will provide more than 220,000 job opportunities.
Looking at the bigger picture, given the rapid urbanisation of populations worldwide, the future of mobility is clear. Routine travel will be done using a mass public transport system, while on-demand autonomous transport systems will cater to people who prefer those. I am sure that most Malaysians would enjoy the time savings provided by an efficient mass transport system rather than wasting hours upon hours in traffic.
Therefore, why is the government insisting on producing a third national car when:
1) The ratio is 0.88 vehicle to every person in the country; and,
2) According to the Malaysian Automotive Association, vehicle sales have dropped 34% from the same period last year?
It has been announced that the third national car project will be spearheaded by local company DreamEDGE Sdn Bhd, in collaboration with Japanese automaker Daihatsu Motor Co Ltd.
According to the International Trade and Industry Ministry, “from the government’s standpoint, the national car project is the nation’s industrialisation catalyst, to spur the meaningful participation of Malaysians in advanced technology adoption. This will create new opportunities for local vendors and talent to be part of the high-technology value chain”.
This is all well and good, but I share the same concern that many have raised in response to the announcement: what are the utility and motivations behind the third national car project?
Valid questions have been posed regarding the capability of DreamEDGE to successfully bring to the market its car models. The company, as noted by Yeah Kim Leng of the Sunway University Business School, has no track record in the extremely competitive car industry. He mentioned that the domestic market is too small, and DreamEDGE will inevitably have to compete in the global market.
Slowing car sales growth is not only a domestic trend. It is also a global one, with experts predicting that auto sales worldwide will drop, given challenging macroeconomic developments.
The world is simply moving away from cars and looking at new mobility – public transport, shared cars and bikes, and most importantly, walking.
Quite simply, the value proposition for a new car today is not there. Nor is there one for a flying model. – August 30, 2019.
* Amir Hazri reads The Malaysian Insight.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.