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Are electric cars economical in Singapore?



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Singapore has gone from one electric car (EV) on the roads at the end of 2015 to 1,036 fully electric cars at the end of 2019. With this exponential growth you may be starting to wonder whether your next car will run on electrons rather than hydrocarbons.

You may also reasonably be wondering whether an electric car suits you at all. And 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, there are issues confounding matters further, such as your access to different kinds of charging points and the fact that our electrons are still largely produced by burning hydrocarbons.

Charging stations in Singapore and Malaysia

Drivers in Singapore are likely to have encountered public charging stations in carparks around the island.

Different stations offer different charge power – meaning some can charge faster than others. Some cars can accept more charge power than others too.

At the moment the fastest charge stations offer 50kW of direct current power, which is enough to fully charge most electric cars in less than an hour. SP Group launched the first batch of these in early 2019 along with a number of 43kW alternating current charging stations, with the aim to have 1,000 stations around the island by 2020.

ChargeNow-Greenlots were an early market entrant, with 34 public charge stations available.

BlueSG – a car-sharing scheme running electric vehicles – already had 191 stations with 755 charging points running in April 2019, with 99 charging points in HDB, URA and JTC carparks available for private EV owners. By 2020 BlueSG aims to have 2,000 charging stations island-wide, with 400 available to the public.

Owners in private condominiums need to negotiate with the Management Corporation Strata Title in order to install charge points, while owners of landed properties can do what they please. EV owners can also use adaptors to plug into household outlets, though the charging times are quite long, typically overnight.

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.

Plugshare is an app that helps owners find charging stations, and lists the type of socket available.

There are three standard sockets in general use locally: J1772 (or Type 1), an early standard for up to 7.4kW; Type 2, which is the current European standard for up to 43kW; and CCS Combo2 for up to 170kW. The latter two are the current local standards, though some Type 1 stations exist – adaptors can be used. There’s a Japanese standard called CHAdeMO and a Tesla standard too, though we are unlikely to see them here.

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 two 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 (which, one suspects, may hit electric cars harder).

We assume drivers can match the quoted fuel efficiency/distance-per-charge rates. We have also made the calculation based on the 2013 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 43kW AC charger, at $0.414 per kWh. If you were able to install a home charger you could pay as little as $0.1768 kWh at current rates, so we’ve included that as the low-end (Private) rate.

Carbon emissions for the mains electricity is based on the 2015 figure of 0.4313kg/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 unusual occurrence.

Electric cars cost more to purchase than their petrol equivalents. We also consider how long it takes to break even – if ever.

The Nissan Leaf versus the Nissan Sylphy

The Nissan Leaf versus the Nissan Sylphy

For mainstream cars we’ve chosen the world’s biggest-selling electric car, the Nissan Leaf, and pitted it against a 1.6-litre Nissan Sylphy.

Nissan Model

Price

Annual road tax

Annual fuel/charge cost

Public (Private)

Annual running cost – road tax plus fuel /charge

Leaf

$154,800

$1,494

$1238 ($529)

$2,732 ($2,023)

Sylphy

$78,800

$742

$2441

$3,183

Even with its higher road tax bill, the running costs of the Leaf are lower than the Sylphy. The main issue is that these lower running costs are a long way from compensating for the higher initial purchase price.

It would take an average Singaporean 65 years to recoup the extra cost of the Leaf, and that’s based on the private charging rates, which may not be available to many owners.

Alternatively, if you drive vast distances you could see the electric car with home charging break even sooner – it’s a 10-year break even at around 120,000km annually, though the battery pack is unlikely to last 10 years with that sort of use. Likewise, maintenance on a Sylphy with 1.2m km on the odometer may be rather high.

In its favour, comparing a Leaf to a Sylphy is like comparing apples and oranges: It is a significantly faster vehicle than the Sylphy, and it pollutes the atmosphere less.

Based on Singapore’s primarily gas-fired power generation, the Leaf produces around half the annual carbon dioxide emissions of the Sylphy over average distances – 1,289kg versus 2,607kg.

Looking at other mainstream brands the story remains similar. If you compare the Hyundai i30 and the Hyundai IONIQ electric vehicle – a closer comparison than the Nissan example, based on performance – the break-even is still 47 years.

Jaguar’s I-Pace versus the F-Pace

Jaguar’s I-Pace versus the F-Pace

In a sense you’d expect owners of luxury cars to fare better – owners are more likely to be able to install home charging stations, for instance, and they’re used to paying higher rates of road tax and higher purchase prices.

We’ve pitted Jaguar’s sleek I-Pace against its petrol-powered F-Pace sibling.

It isn’t a fair comparison again – the I-Pace offers, err, electric acceleration, hitting 100km/h from rest in 4.8 seconds, compared to a more sedate 6.8 seconds for the base petrol F-Pace. That puts the I-Pace in sports car territory, and unfortunately the authorities see it that way too, whacking it with an enormous annual road tax bill.

A fairer comparison is with another sporting Jaguar – the F-Pace SVR. This 5.0-litre V8 monsters its way to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds, so is definitely a closer match in acceleration terms (though the V8 has a whopping 283km/h top speed, compared to the I-Pace at 200km/h. All somewhat academic on Singapore roads).

Jaguar Model

Price

Annual road tax

Annual fuel/charge cost

Public (Private)

Annual running cost – road tax plus fuel /charge

I-Pace HSE

$349,999

$5,802

$1,384 ($591)

$7,186 ($6,393)

F-Pace

$246,999

$1,210

$2,795

$4,005

F-Pace SVR

$370,000

$5,514

$4,685

$10,199

Again, against the base model F-Pace, the electric I-Pace only wins on better CO2 emissions (1,289kg annually, as opposed to 2,582kg for the F-Pace). But thanks to that hefty road tax, owners will never break even on costs compared to the base petrol model.

The situation reverses if they were looking at the performance version of the F-Pace, with its 5-litre V8 engine, and commensurate road tax bill. In that instance the electric I-Pace is absolutely a sensible choice, saving more than $3,000 a year, and producing less than a third of the CO2 emissions in the process. It’s even cheaper to buy in the first instance.

The problem is that in Singapore there are not many customers lining up to purchase an F-Pace SVR – the model is available on an indent basis here, meaning Jaguar will provide the model for customers who request it, but don’t keep them in stock.

Results are in!

What is clear from these figures is that despite having significantly lower power usage costs compared to petrol cars, the premium paid to purchase EVs is too high to offset in a realistic time frame. The fact that EVs also generally attract higher road taxes does their cause no favours either.

The tax regime looks like a hangover from the past, where a progressive tax was applied according to engine capacity, on the assumption that larger capacity equated to more luxury and performance. Unfortunately, with the tax system for electric cars, their generally superior performance attracts a higher tax.

Matching like-for-like does make the EVs look much better, as is the case with the high-performance Jaguar.

The biggest issue for EVs is purchase price, however. The current situation means overall ownership costs of EVs are higher. Until the purchase price of electric cars comes down significantly (which is likely, with improvements in battery technology and economies of scale), it looks as though electric vehicles will remain a niche purchase for Singapore drivers for the time being.

Please note, Budget Direct Insurance does not currently provide car insurance for electric vehicles.

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