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Are electric cars economical in Singapore?



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With commitments by governments around the world to tackle climate change, the end of the petrol-powered car and the dawn of the electric vehicle is coming. The question for buyers in Singapore is when?

While some early adopters have taken the plunge, as of November 2021 there were 2,635 electric cars on the roads, representing only 0.4% of the total car population.

But things are set to change: The government has set 2040 as the date when all vehicles will be running on ‘cleaner energy’, and some tweaks to the vehicle tax regime have recently made battery-powered electric vehicles a more attractive proposition.


Is now the time to be thinking of going electric in Singapore?

The answer to that is a firm ‘it depends’ – it depends on your intended usage, it depends on what type of car you want, it depends on whether you’re an early adopter, and it depends on your environmental concerns.

Plus, it depends on your willingness to adapt to the challenges of owning an electric vehicle. Charging takes time compared to filling-up at petrol kiosks, for instance, and there may be some anxiety about finding charging points when the battery is running low.

That said, under the Singapore Green Plan 2030 (SGP30) the aim is to have 60,000 charging points by 2030 – 40,000 of them public, and 20,000 in private premises.

SP Group claims it currently has the largest charging network with over 450 charging points – of which about one third are high-speed DC points – in more than 100 locations island-wide. ChargeNow-Greenlots has 95 public charging points in 42 locations, and 122 points in 54 condos.

Drivers needn’t be overly concerned about travelling to Malaysia, with charge points (some offering free charging) available on the North-South Expressway, in Johor, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and other locations, though they’re fairly rare on the East Coast.

Not all charging points are created equal, either. Firstly, there are some different plugs. Type 2 AC and Combo-2 DC charging systems are the National Public Charging Standards, while CHAdeMO charging systems used by some Japanese manufacturers is an Optional Public Charging Standard. Tesla has its own system, and there are three high-capacity ‘Superchargers’ in Singapore currently, though Teslas come with an adaptor for use with standard Type 2 chargers.

Also, different charging points have different charging capacities, which will affect the charging times. Public charging points are generally between 3.7kW and 50kW, though the potential for more powerful – and therefore faster – chargers is developing. The Tesla Superchargers are 250kW, for instance.

Some charging points are subsidized by building owners or lessors and are offered free of charge as an incentive to patronize the business. You’ve possibly seen these spots at Ikea, where EV drivers can use the 7.4kW chargers for two hours for free. Most other charging points come at a cost.

If that’s not confusing enough, different cars have different battery capacities, so that affects charging times too.


How much does it cost to run an electric car in Singapore?

For drivers looking to buy an EV we’ve compared running costs for three electric cars against their petrol counterparts.

The comparison only covers the road-tax and fuel/charging costs, and not maintenance (which is likely to be higher for petrol cars) or depreciation.

We assume drivers can match the quoted fuel efficiency/distance-per-charge rates. We have also made the calculation based on the 2018 average annual mileage figure for Singapore cars (the last reported by the LTA) of 17,500km.

We have calculated the public charge rate based on the tariff at an SP Group public charging station using a 50kW AC charger, at $0.4949/kWh per kWh. If you were able to install a home charger you could pay as little as $0.258/kW at current rates, so we’ve included that as the low-end (Private) rate.

We don’t have a crystal ball, so have not accounted for increased fuel or electricity costs.

Carbon emissions for the mains electricity is based on the 2020 figure of 0.408kg/kWh, though that is improving. Owners of landed property could install solar panels and charge their vehicles for nothing other than the installation costs, and emit zero carbon, but that is likely to be a very rare occurrence.

For simplicity’s sake, we have included the road tax for electric vehicles from 2023 onwards (it’s discounted by $300 for 2022).

We also consider how long it takes to break even buying an electric car.


At the entry level we look at MG’s HS Petrol Turbo SUV and ZS Fully Electric SUV.

MG

Price

Annual road tax

Annual fuel/charge cost Public (Private)

Annual Running cost – road tax plus fuel/charge

HS Petrol Turbo SUV

$154,888

$679

$3,094

$3,773

ZS EV Fully Electric SUV

$157,888 (inc home charger)

$1,640

$1,273 ($663)

$2,913 ($2,304)


Even at first glance, the all-electric MG looks like a winner. If you did all your charging at home, you’d break even in a mere two years. Obviously if you drive more, those savings will really add-up quickly.

You could save more on the MG ZS purchase price by not buying the charger at all, and in that case the initial cost is $1,000 cheaper to start with. Yes, you’ll pay more for public charging (unless you spend an inordinate amount of time shopping at Ikea), but even so, electric wins this particular contest.

You’d be doing the planet a favour too, emitting 6.0kg/100km of CO2 against a whopping 17.4kg/100km for the petrol.

 

At the other end of the scale in the upper luxury segment we have the Porsche Panamera versus the all-electric Taycan.

Porsche

Price

Annual road tax

Annual fuel/charge cost Public (Private)

Annual Running cost – road tax plus fuel/charge

Panamera

$388,388

$2,261

$3,959

$6,220

Taycan Performance Battery

$345,858

$3,242

$2,426 ($1,264)

$5,668 ($4,506)


Thanks to its substantially lower purchase price, the electric Taycan has a nifty head-start over the petrol Panamera. Add to that lower running costs, and the choice is simple, plus you’d be spewing 8.3kg less CO2 into the atmosphere for every 100km driven (it’s 11.4kg/100km for the Taycan against 19.7kg/100km for the Panamera).

Electric wins again.

But while it seems that going electric is now the only sensible choice thanks to the kinder tax rules, things aren’t always so clear cut. Take the example of the electric BMNW iX3 versus the petrol equivalent.

BMW

Price

Annual road tax

Annual fuel/charge cost Public (Private)

Annual Running cost – road tax plus fuel/charge

X3 xDrive20i xLine

$276,888

$742

$3,230

$3,972

iX3 Impressive

$281,888

$2,851

$1,680 ($877)

$4,531 ($3,728)

Thanks to road tax being calculated based on power output for electric vehicles, the BMW iX3 is slugged with a much higher annual fee than the petrol xDrive20i.

In the shoot-out between the electric iX3 and its petrol equivalent it would take around 20 years of driving before the electric one breaks-even. But only if you charged at home. If you relied on fast chargers, you’ll never break even.

If you drive a lot though, and charged at home, things look fairly rosy: If you drive twice the Singapore average – or 35,000km a year – you could break-even in less than two years. You are also saving the planet (somewhat) with 7.9kg/100km CO2 against 16.3kg/100km for the X3 xDrive20i.

But matters get much more confusing when you realise there’s a 2.0-litre plug-in hybrid xDrive30e that falls somewhere in between the two above.

Because the xDrive30e is a hybrid that can also use charging infrastructure, you could plug it in to save money too – it will do 41km on a charge, and if you did that one time daily, you could cover nearly 15,000km in a year on electric power alone. Your running costs then would be the cheapest of the three, but you’d still take decades to break even based on the higher $320,888 purchase price.


In conclusion

While the new rules covering electric cars have gone some way to making them more affordable, the choice for buyers is not always clear-cut. Some buyers will appreciate the smooth acceleration of electric vehicles, their environmental credentials, and being early adopters, while others may prefer to stick with the devil they know (for now).

Some work with a calculator and the specifications may point you in a particular direction, but be aware that hybrids, which combine petrol power with electric, and some of which can be charged like electric vehicles, make that cost comparison much more difficult.

The fact remains that Singapore now has a plan to phase-out petrol-powered vehicles. In the short-term the choice of petrol versus electric remains. In the longer term, expect battery technology, in particular, to improve, and for more choice of electric cars in the market. And that one day, if you want to purchase a car, it will be electric.

Need insurance for your electric or hybrid vehicle but can’t find your make/ model on our website? Give us a call at 6221 2111, Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 8pm, or Saturdays 9am to 3pm (excluding public holidays) or email [email protected]. We’re here to assist you.

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