Why Isn’t LTA Making It Easier to Drive an Electric Car in Singapore?

Why Isn’t LTA Making It Easier to Drive an Electric Car in Singapore?

2016 is SG51, and this year on National Day, we celebrate the first year of Singapore’s second 50 years of independence. Since last year, we’ve been touting ourselves as a Smart Nation, preparing ourselves for the future by encouraging “computational thinking” in our children.

In fact, “The Future of Us”, a glimpse into Singapore’s future possibilities, was a relatively successful exhibition at the Gardens by the Bay that attracted over 360,000 visitors over the past couple of months before it closed on the 8th of March. So naturally, we had to be reminded that we were nowhere close to being future-ready, thanks to one electric car and her owner.


What electric car are you talking about?

Here’s a quick and dirty summary if you’ve still not heard about Joe Nguyen and his Tesla Model S.

  1. Guy buys one of the most popular electric car models in the world in 2014.
  2. He ships electric car from Hong Kong (where he bought it) to Singapore (where he lives).
  3. Electric car gets stuck for weeks and months while LTA demands for paperwork. Some of which neither car owner nor car manufacturer can provide because they are related to PETROL CARS.
  4. LTA then refers car owner to the Energy Market Authority, which has led an Electric Vehicle taskforce for several years. What pertinent question does the taskforce leader ask? How the car owner charges his car. The answer? A three-pin plug. This mind-blowing answer was apparently followed by weeks of radio silence.
  5. Car owner is then contacted by LTA again, and asked to send his car to VICOM to be tested. As it wasn’t licensed, he couldn’t drive it there, and so he had to get a truck to bring it for inspections. A perfectly. Good. Car.
  6. VICOM reveals they have no idea what to do with an electric car. Because they’ve never tested a used electric car before. It was not confirmed if VICOM received any prize for being the first organisation to honestly admit they had no idea what they were doing.
  7. LTA and VICOM eventually came up with some awkward test for the car, which then took weeks to execute because, surprise surprise, they didn’t know how to charge the car properly.
  8. Electric car is finally licensed to drive on Singapore roads. YAY.
  9. Electric car can only be charged in owner’s home and is not allowed to be charged publicly. OOOOKAY…
  10. Electric car is fined $15,000 because according the awkward test by VICOM, its usage emits carbon dioxide on the same level as champion petrol guzzlers like the Land Rover Freelander and the Maserati Ghibli.

Got all that? No. Let me summarise it in one line: According to LTA’s testing, the most popular electric car in the world is actually no better than a massive petrol monster.


Wah piang eh! Why Singapore so liddat? Sibeh jialat sia…

Not since Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp while she was in a locked toilet, claiming that he thought she was an intruder, has there been such a weak defense. LTA later clarified that if the car was brand new, it would have enjoyed a rebate based on Tesla’s specifications. In other words, LTA says it’s not our fault that our weird awkward test that we created solely for the purpose of this one car gave us a result that doesn’t make common sense.

But do you know what makes it worse? The Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme rebate or CEVS rebate was revised from July last year, in order to further incentivise the purchase of eco-friendly vehicles. It’s quite possible that Mr Nguyen chose to import his Tesla Model S immediately after the revision, hoping to claim the maximum rebate of $30,000. Instead, he got caught by the heavier revised penalties – if he had brought it in before the revisions, he may have only been penalised $5,000 instead of $15,000 for the same level of carbon emissions.


What does this whole case reveal about driving an electric car in Singapore?

Despite the known costs of driving any car in Singapore, not just an electric one, Mr Nguyen still was willing to import his Tesla Model S into the country. According to CNBC, the car cost S$93,000, but customs duty and GST was another S$27,000, and registration fees, road tax, COE and vehicle testing fees cost him another S$200,000. Finally, the slap in the face was the extra $15,000 surcharge under the CEVS.

Thanks to taxes and fees, Mr Nguyen ended up paying close to three times the cost of the Tesla Model S, just so that he could drive an electric car in Singapore. Why would anyone cough up that amount unless he believed that Singapore was a suitable city for electric vehicles?

Even when he was told that he could only charge his car at his own home, and not in public, Mr Nguyen didn’t think twice about the regulation – because on a full charge, the Tesla Model S is capable of a range of at least 380 km, more than enough to drive back and forth from Tuas to Changi Airport several times.


That being said, why is Singapore still making it so difficult to obtain an electric car in Singapore?

This case brought up an important bit of history – Tesla has tried in the past to establish a foothold in Singapore, but left back in 2011, after spending only 6 months here. The reason for the exit? Poor sales and a lack of tax rebates from the government. Why? Because the government wouldn’t support a company that only was interested in commercial sales.

As we’ve discussed before, and as Mr Nguyen’s case has proven, Singapore doesn’t seem interested in making electric cars a viable, cheaper alternative to petrol cars.

And perhaps that’s the real reason why Singapore’s not quite as “future-ready” as we claim to be – because at the end of the day, as the region’s oil hub, we don’t really seem to be interested in actually reducing our reliance on non-sustainable petrol. After a quick call from Tesla’s well-known CEO to our dear Prime Minister, it seems like a review is underway again to see what readjustments are needed to the current tax structure.

Hopefully, we’ll see some progress being made sooner rather than later.


What would convince you to get an electric car? Share your thoughts with us.