Good & Green: Greening up the streets

This article first appeared in Unlisted, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on August 10, 2015 - August 30, 2015.
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When Datuk Seri Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir examined the public transport system in the Klang Valley, he identified a clear problem. While the plan to build an extensive light rail transit (LRT) system across the city had been a step in the right direction, there was still a gap in the infrastructure — the first and last mile connectivity.

Syed Zainal Abidin is no stranger to the local transport industry and its challenges, having worked at both local carmakers — Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd (Perodua) and Proton Holdings Bhd. 

“The government is busy building MRT (mass rapid transit) lines so that more people can take public transport and rely less on cars. But the problem is that these stations may not be close enough to their destinations,” he says.

What Syed Zainal Abidin came up with was a solution that was not only effective but also environmentally friendly — one that involved the use of electric vehicles (EVs). 

The Cohesive Mobility Solution (COMOS) offers three types of services. The first, which was launched in February, is a car leasing programme aimed at corporate clients. 

“There are special tax deductions for corporates that lease EVs, so when they rent from us, they save on fuel as well as get tax rebates,” says Syed Zainal Abidin, who is the company’s executive chairman. 

The second service is a car-sharing programme for the general public. Users can rent a car for however long they need it and return it at any of the COMOS stations in the Klang Valley.

Its third service is limited to Langkawi, Melaka and Kuala Lumpur. “We call it the eco-ride. We rent a two-seater Renault Twizy to tourists so that they can drive to the touristy spots,” Syed Zainal Abidin says, adding that COMOS plans to roll out its car-sharing service in phases.

“When we launched the car-sharing programme, we only had about 12 cars on the road. But we hope to have 100 to 150 cars by the end of the year, depending on the take-up rate.”

EVs are not just cars but high technology, value-added vehicles, he says. “The technology itself is mature, but the product is new to Malaysians, so we are giving them a chance to test drive the cars [by renting them] before they commit to buying one.” 

For now, it is an end-mile solution, Syed Zainal Abidin says. And what COMOS is doing is to provide an environmentally friendly vehicle that fills this last-mile gap. 

“When you arrive at the MRT or LRT station, the car will be ready for you to drive to your destination. If your end point has a COMOS station to park the car at, then you won’t have the hassle of finding a carpark as there are designated lots for parking and charging the car,” he says.

COMOS stations are currently found at the Kelana Jaya LRT station, Asia Jaya LRT station, Universiti LRT station and Bangsar LRT station, as well as Jalan Munshi Abdullah, Monorail Medan Tuanku, Lorong P Ramlee and the UTM KL campus. 

To use the service, all one has to do is sign up as a COMOS member. Then when he arrives at an LRT station, he can rent one of the COMOS cars parked on the ground level and drive to his destination. When he has finished using the car, he can return it at any of the COMOS stations in Kuala Lumpur.

Syed Zainal Abidin sees this as a mission, or a part of his duty to contribute goodness to the world. “I want to be able to look back on my life and say that I have done something to contribute to the future of this world and the next generation.” 

This project is also fuelled by his desire to reduce Malaysia’s carbon footprint. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2009 that Malaysia would reduce carbon emissions by 40% per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020 compared with its levels in 2005.

The World Bank’s data show that in 2005, Malaysia’s carbon emissions were at 6.9 tonnes per capita. Former Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dr James Dawos Mamit says the country’s carbon emissions will reach 12.1 tonnes if things remain the same. The automotive industry contributes quite substantially to the carbon emissions. 

Malaysia seems further away from its goal than ever. But Syed Zainal Abidin has faith that his system will help reduce the country’s carbon footprint. 

“Looking at the world today, carbon dioxide emissions are causing a lot of problems to the environment. The government wants to reduce our emissions and it is a compelling enough reason for me to want to as well,” he says. 

A typical 1.8 litre car emits about 3.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year while a 2.0 litre car emits 4.6 tonnes, says Syed Zainal Abidin. But EVs do not emit any at all.

“Think of how much carbon dioxide we will be reducing with the use of more EVs,” he points out. Of course, an ideal solution would be for more people to use EVs. But their popularity has yet to pick up in Malaysia due to a lack of awareness and the high cost. 

“The local market is too small for us to build EVs right now. First, we have to create the awareness to create the market,” Syed Zainal Abidin says, adding that EVs are still fairly new to the Asean market as a whole.

Things are different in Europe, which has seen the use of EVs for the past three to four years. “Europeans want to save the environment and drive EVs, but they don’t want to own them. They are willing to share the EVs,” he says. This concept can be applied in Malaysia.

“Everyone is moving towards green technology and there is a growing awareness of the need to reduce carbon emissions. People know that fossil fuels will become scarce, which is why companies are investing in hybrid technology,” says Syed Zainal Abidin. 

EVs will be the future of the automotive industry, he adds. “We are already seeing signs of that now.”

However, the existing infrastructure limits what the country can do with EVs. Three things need to change for such vehicles to become a norm here.

First, there must be more EV options available in Malaysia. Syed Zainal Abidin says COMOS buys proven models from reliable companies, such as the Renault Zoe and Twizy. “We want to offer the best end-user experience because at the end of the day, our customers want to enjoy their driving experience.”

He says his company will also partner other brands, such as Nissan, to bring EVs to the local market in the future. “COMOS will be like a conventional car rental company, similar to Hertz, where people have the option to choose between bigger or smaller cars and pay accordingly,” he adds. 

There must also be more charging points available. “The government has agreed to invest in charging infrastructure. But right now, there are very few places where EVs can be charged,” Syed Zainal Abidin says.

Creating mobile or online apps so that the general public can locate these EVs and charging stations will also go a long way in promoting the industry. This is something COMOS has already done. 

“Not only do we make our cars available through this app, people can book their charging stations as well,” says Syed Zainal Abidin.

He believes that this project will be successful. “So far, the people whom we have spoken to understand our intentions behind this and support it.”

However, every project comes with its fair share of challenges. Syed Zainal Abidin thinks a potential challenge will be how well customers are able to follow the rules. “I think it will take some time for customers to adapt to this system. But it can be overcome easily through education,” he says. 

He predicts that it will take about two years for the company to see a return on its initial RM3 million investment. But this really depends on the take-up rate. “We will continue to reinvest in the company as we believe we are investing in the future.”

As at May, COMOS had 600 registered members. Syed Zainal Abidin hopes the number will increase substantially. In fact, he dreams of a Malaysia with 100,000 EVs on the road by 2020. 

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