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Electric Cars In Singapore: A Question Of 'When' Rather Than 'If'

Remember the imported Tesla Model S electric car that was slapped with a hefty S$15,000 carbon emissions surcharge earlier in March in an incident that resulted in Elon Musk reaching out to Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong?

In case you’re wondering, the unpopular decision has and will not be overturned, much to the dismay of potential Tesla owners. Does this paint a bleak picture for electric cars in Singapore?

The Controversy Explained

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Image Credit: Mr. Joe Nguyen, Facebook

For those not up to speed, one Mr. Joe Nguyen imported a used Tesla Model S, a high-performance variant of Tesla’s line of Electric Vehicles (EVs), into Singapore. Expecting to receive the full S$30,000 CEVS rebate applicable for environmentally friendly vehicles, he was instead imposed a S$15,000 carbon emissions surcharge – the 2nd highest amount possible.

The oxymoronic outcome of this decision was confounding, especially when conventional wisdom would tell us that it’s unreasonable for a car with no engine and no exhaust to incur any sort of pollutant-based penalty. At least that was until the authorities clarified on the decision process:

“All imported used cars, including used electric cars, have to be subject to emissions and fuel efficiency tests before they are allowed to be registered for use in Singapore. This is because the emissions and fuel efficiency of a used car, unlike a new car, can vary significantly depending on its prevailing condition, how it was previously driven and maintained, etc. The imported Model S was first registered in Hong Kong in 2014.

Based on tests run by VICOM Emission Test Laboratory (VeTL), Mr Nguyen’s used Model S had an electrical energy consumption of 444 Wh/km. An emissions factor of 0.5g CO2/Wh was then applied.  This emissions factor, which is based on data provided by EMA, is consistently applied to electric and plug-in electric hybrid cars to account for the carbon emissions produced when the car is being charged.

The outcome showed a carbon emissions level which placed this used car into the CEVS C3 surcharge band.

Electric cars are not carbon emissions free. They may not produce emissions from the tailpipe like conventional cars, but they take electrical power from the national power grid which has to burn fuel to produce the electricity, and in the process produces carbon emissions.

Tesla has informed LTA that based on the car’s original Certificate of Conformity, its energy consumption rating was 181 Wh/km when it left the Tesla factory on 28 June 2014. LTA confirms that a brand new Tesla Model S would thus have fallen into the CEVS A1 band, and enjoyed a rebate.”

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Image Credit: Austin Kirk, Flickr

Matter of Technicality 

At the point of writing, Tesla cars are only accessible via parallel import and there is a process that needs to be adhered to in order to qualify the inbound car as a ‘new’ car. Failing which, it will be deemed ‘used’ and will have to pass stringent individual checks before it can get its rubber feet wet on local streets. It is this same process that got Mr. Nguyen slapped with the infamous surcharge. Had it only been brought in as a new car, a proper rebate would have been in order, as confirmed by LTA.

And while it appears that the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (LTA) did its controversial sums right, Singapore remains the only country to include power grid emission into the evaluation of an EV’s carbon footprint.

A Glimmer of Hope

According to the LTA, the new Tesla 3 will be eligible for the maximum S$30,000 rebate if (and only if) its energy efficiency is as good as that of a new Tesla Model S, keyword being ‘new’.

In more good news, LTA has released statements announcing a programme to install 2,000 Electric Vehicle (EV) charging points across Singapore which, for a total land area of just 719.1km2, is a sizeable effort to encourage the adoption of electric cars.

Let’s put that into present context: Greenlots, the leading provider of EV charging stations here has managed just 50 charging stations. Even if they fulfil their plans to triple that number in the next few years, that only adds up to 150.

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Recent events seem to be giving EVs the limelight which just might give them the much needed momentum to gain traction in the very near future. It is significant that the government is leading the way in providing the infrastructural grid required for EVs to become a truly viable mode of transport in Singapore.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

With recent initiatives by the local authorities, momentum is shifting forward for EVs in Singapore.

Understandably, even when the government has delivered on their end, the effects will not be felt immediately. Inertia in consumer behaviour and the well established infrastructure of numerous conveniently located petrol kiosks will still favour petrol vehicles in the short run. However, the volatility of petrol prices may turn consumers’ eyes towards EVs. On the distributions side then, there must be increased support from businesses to bring in a variety of EVs that cater to the tastes and needs of drivers. At the point of writing, Stellar Motors is the only importer of EVs in Singapore.

Tim Wong, founder of Stellar Motors comments on the direction of EVs moving forward: “I think it’s definitely a matter of time before EVs become more widely accepted like Hybrids. Granted, it will definitely take some time due to the lack of infrastructure, but the fact that the government has announced 2,000 lots also means that it is also in their interest to bring this forward, but of course, they cannot over-commit or we might run into grid issues.”

“Singapore has almost the perfect conditions for EVs; we travel less than 70 km daily typically, country is small, climate is just about right for the batteries, [the need for] servicing is almost non-existent, petrol is expensive and fits into our image of clean and green garden city. Many new ECs and condos also have charging lots, and once HDB starts having them as well, the major pickup will come from there.”

“EVs are also the predecessor of autonomous driving, which is currently being explored by Tesla and Uber at the point of writing. The technology is still at its infancy, but the fact that Tesla can auto-pilot itself on the freeway, and also summon itself out from a garage parking lot speaks a lot at the rate that we are progressing.”

If history is any indicator that technology drives products and not the other way around, then it seems a safe bet that EVs are a way, if not the way forward for personal transportation.

 

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