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Is Singapore ready for the electric vehicle revolution?


Photo by Petovarga


Just a few years ago, Singapore looked like it was falling behind the EV times. Perhaps the most famous government gaffe was in 2016, when the owner of Singapore’s first Tesla was penalized with a $15,000 tax, rather than being awarded with a tax break for using a greener car. Elon Musk famously took a potshot at our government in 2018, saying that they weren’t supportive of electric vehicles, and calling them “unwelcome” in 2019.


But oh, how the turn tables! Consumer attitudes towards EVs in Singapore seem to be shifting. Last year, there were 1396 registered electric cars in Singapore––significant considering how low the numbers were just a few years ago––and recent government initiatives and announcements suggest that we might be on the verge of real change.


Yet the question remains: is Singapore ready for the EV revolution?

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Why we should be transitioning to EVs


To understand why Singapore might see a major shift towards electrified cars, let’s take a quick look at why consumers should bother switching to EV.


The most obvious factor is that EVs run on electricity, not petrol––great for reducing air pollution and overall emissions. Think of that net carbon-positive impact! Regularly charging an EV does consume power, but far less than most petrol-guzzling cars, and so they’re cheaper to run per kilometre than a regular car. Plus, EVs are so much quieter than regular cars. Not only does that reduce noise pollution, you’ll enjoy having a smooth and quiet drive, too.


One major concern many consumers have is how long a single charge lasts. This, however, shouldn’t concern the average driver in Singapore. Most EVs have a range of at least 200km (it’s usually higher) and for urban driving on our small island nation, that’s pretty darn good.

Photo by Heng Lim


Why haven’t EVs taken off in Singapore so far?


You could point to many factors, but a chief reason is cost.


If you’re reading this, you probably already know that Singapore is the most expensive place in the world to own a car. The government has introduced rebates for hybrid cars in the past, but until recently, EV-related incentives were either non-existent or just not attractive enough to justify the cost. For example, the $5000 additional registration fee (ARF) for an EV just felt like a bit much.


EVs might cost up to six times less to run per kilometre than a conventional petrol car, but the upfront cost of an EV at this point in time is just eyewatering. While Tesla cars aren’t widely available yet, a few dealers like Hong Seh Motors stock them, and each model runs upwards of $400,000. Even cheaper EVs like the Hyundai Ioniq or Nissan Leaf will set you back around $140,000.


Price aside, there just aren’t that many EV options on the market yet. For the average consumer, the choices are between brands like Tesla, BMW, Jaguar… and most people aren’t in the market for a luxury car, even if it is fully electric. But Tesla is finally coming to Singapore, Hyundai is building Singapore’s first car plant to produce EVs for the domestic market…. And it would be great news for consumers if we can see some Chinese EVs like Nio, Li, or Xpeng landing on the little red dot soon.


Another reason is the lack of charging infrastructure. The public network for EV charging is expanding, but there aren’t enough of them to justify widespread EV adoption yet. (If you drive a BMW or Hyundai, you can charge your car at their showroom premises.)


Then there’s also the question of space. Prospective EV owners are likely to want their own charging station, which means living on landed property or at the very least having a private parking space. How many people can really afford this on our space-starved island? Until we have more chargers, that’s not going to change for a while!


On the bright side, BlueSG is one company that’s filling the EV market gap by offering electric car sharing and car charging services. (In fact, they’re the world’s second largest electric car-sharing service––no mean feat!) Launched in 2017, their 24/7 services are a real boon for those who don’t have the space or means to own an EV, but would prefer to reduce their carbon emissions while driving.

Photo by Ivan Radic


What is the government doing?


Fortunately, the government has finally decided that EVs are the way forward, and they’re ramping up efforts to build an entire ecosystem for electrification. (Our MRT is 100% electric, and our public buses look to be heading the same way.) To that end, there’s now a whole slew of incentives for prospective EV owners.


For one, road taxes for mass-market EVs have been lowered by up to 40% so that they’re on par with petrol cars, making it easier for prospective car buyers to choose electric over gas (or even hybrid). The ARF mentioned earlier will also be slashed from January 2022, which will help buyers maximize early-adoption rebates. See––there are benefits to being kiasu after all!


Then there are the tasty new rebates. One of them is the EEAI (EV Early Adoption Initiative) along with a revised VES (Vehicular Emissions Scheme). However, consumers should note that the way rebates are calculated doesn’t make all EVs equally more affordable, only some of them.


The government has also pledged to solve the charging infrastructure problem. In the latest 2021 budget, the proposed target was a whopping 60,000 charging points and public car parks and private premises by 2030, which is a real increase from the previous target of 28,000. Ambitious, to be sure, but that’s a crucial step for widespread consumer adoption of EVs. Can they do this in the next 10 years? We’ll just have to wait and see.


Most importantly, the government wants to phase out fossil fuel-power vehicles entirely by 2040, so whether you like it or not, at some stage an EV will be the norm rather than the outlier. And, if you’re still bumbling around on a diesel car, you only have till 2025 to do so, as Singapore won’t allow them to be registered anymore.

Photo by Romain Guy


What more do we need?


BlueSG’s success in the Singaporean market notwithstanding, more needs to be done in order to make widespread EV adoption a reality.


One of the most important things is to have a dedicated COE category for EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles––or heck, even ‘green’ vehicles overall. It’s useful from a data collection standpoint: car dealers can adjust their supply of EVs according to trends in COE data, pace their sales, and even make decisions for inventory going forward. EV charging infrastructure companies can adjust and time their infrastructure deployment. Being able to bid for an EV-specific COE may also reassure some consumers that they’re not losing out to petrol cars!


Secondly, consumers really need to know that charging EVs will be a breeze going forward. Right now, trying to find EV charging stations is a nightmare. Unlike petrol stations, which are brightly lit and out in the open, charging stations are usually tucked away inside various kinds of car parks. It is an unfortunate truth that convenience trumps all. If charging is convenient, more people will be inclined to give EVs a chance.


The other aspect of EV charging is to make it seamless and accessible to everyone, without having to download a million apps. Right now, there are a number of charging infrastructure providers, and they all have their own apps. This is peak frustration from a consumer standpoint––if the government can integrate all of them into a single platform (at least on the consumer-facing side), it’ll make the EV charging experience that much more consumer-friendly.


We think Singapore has a green future when it comes to EVs. When we start stocking them, you’ll be the first to know! In the meantime, head on over to ST Auto for a test drive with our friendly sales staff. Call +65 6464 9098 or email us at enquiry@stauto.com.sg

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