Where hybrid cars in Malaysia are concerned, Honda can be considered the pioneer because it was the first company to sell such models officially. Though it was clear that demand would not be high due to the higher price of a hybrid variant, Honda Malaysia nevertheless offered it to the Malaysian public from 2007.
Today, Honda again showed its pioneering spirit by launching the first locally-assembled hybrid model in Malaysia (Proton has built some hybrid cars but has yet to sell to the public). The model is the Jazz Hybrid which was introduced here earlier in the year in CBU form and with the special exemption on import duty and excise tax, it has sold very well due to its low price (the cheapest hybrid in Malaysia).
The strong demand encouraged Honda to consider assembling locally and after getting the green light to go ahead, Honda Malaysia’s own plant in Melaka took just 8 months to start local assembly. This is actually quite fast, especially considering that the conventional Jazz (with a petrol engine only) is not assembled here; had it already been assembled, it would have been quicker since the assembly jigs would already be in place.
Some 7,000 man-hours were spent on training to assemble the model and particular attention was paid to the safe and correct installation of the electrical components. In a hybrid, there are high-voltage cables between the battery and the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system and extra care has to be taken to not only connect the components correctly to avoid short-circuits but also to ensure no one gets electrocuted.
Assembling the Jazz Hybrid locally will certainly boost Honda’s sales. As it is, the total number of Jazz Hybrid, CR-Z, Civic Hybrid and Insight cars on the road is over 12,000 units now, accounting for about 69% of all hybrids sold in Malaysia to date. Honda Malaysia expects to sell 4,800 units of the Jazz Hybrid in 2013.
Price-wise, assembling locally reduces the price to RM89,900, insurance included (from RM94,800 for the CBU version), not as significant as would be expected under normal conditions. This is because, as mentioned earlier, hybrid models (below 2000 cc) are exempt from import duty and excise duty so they are already cheaper than usual. In fact, according to Honda Malaysia’s CEO & MD, Yoichiro Ueno, it is unusual for a hybrid variant to be cheaper than its conventional equivalent and this only occurs in Malaysia.
“At this time, the local content for the Jazz Hybrid is not very much, partly because we wanted to introduce it as quickly as possible,” Mr. Ueno revealed. “However, we have a plan to increase the local content and are already working with local suppliers to develop components for the model from next year.”
With regard to developing components locally, Mr. Ueno also said that a R&D facility is now being constructed near the assembly plant and its main function will be the localization of components.
Technically, the locally-assembled Jazz Hybrid does not differ from the one which has been imported since the beginning of the year. It has the 1.3-litre Honda IMA powertrain and a Ni-Mh battery pack (which has a 5-year/140,000-km warranty, whichever occurs first). Equipment-wise, however, there are some differences as the curtain airbags, cruise control and rear disc brakes found on the CBU version are not present.
For those who want to do a bit of personalization, Honda dealers offer items such as a tailgate spoiler, a different front grille, interior foot light, sporty alloy pedals and illuminated sill trim.
The assembly of the Jazz Hybrid in Malaysia should please the government which has, for the past few years, been urging carmakers to make Malaysia the ‘hybrid hub’ in ASEAN. Having missed the huge opportunity to become the ‘Detroit of the East’ because it chose to have its own national car project, Malaysia is now trying a different angle.
It’s still a challenge since Thailand has also been a step ahead, having announced and implemented its eco-car project.
That project drew a number of carmakers to participate and in the case of Mitsubishi Motors, even to build a new factory to assemble its Mirage eco-car and export from Thailand to the rest of the world.
“We are now looking at offering incentives for ‘energy-efficient vehicles’ (EEV) and such vehicles need not only be hybrids but also other types of vehicles which meet certain criteria,” said Dato’ Mukhriz Tun Mahathir, Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI). His ministry is still finalizing the definition of EEVs and the sort of incentives that will be available.
When asked what would happen to the duty-free incentives for hybrids after the end of 2013 (when the government has indicated the incentive will end), the Deputy Minister did not have an immediate answer to offer.
Therefore it is still not known whether the government will stop such an incentive – which will probably stall hybrid sales – and provide rebates via the Industrial Adjustment Fund (IAF). It would seem that now Honda (and perhaps Proton later on) has made the move, the government may decide that there is no longer a need to extend such a privilege to every company.
On whether exports of the Jazz Hybrid will also be carried out, Mr. Ueno said that they have not made any plans yet. Their main focus in the immediate future will be to meet demand in the Malaysian market.
To know more about the Jazz Hybrid, visit www.honda.com.my
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