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Why Drive Electric Cars in Singapore?

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In the last decade electric vehicle sales in Singapore have increased from just a few (in 2012 there were three EVs registered for in Singapore), to 6,531 at the end of 2022. Significantly, the number of EVs in Singapore more than doubled from 2020 to 2021—from 1,217 to 2,942—and then more than doubled again in 2022.[1]

While that number represented 1.2% of vehicles on the roads at the end of 2022, it’s significant enough that you’re now likely to see an EV while out on Singapore roads, and you’re likely to see more over time.

Is it time you started thinking about buying an EV?

While the market has arguably been early adopters and enthusiasts to this point, EVs are becoming more mainstream. From just a small selection a few years ago, there are now around 33 different EV models officially available in Singapore (and a few more through parallel importers), ranging from relatively affordable MG models to if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it Rolls-Royces.

Somewhere in between, there’s possibly an EV that suits you, depending on your budget and driving habits.

For the average Singapore driver, EVs can make a lot of sense—Singapore’s urban driving environment and limited space make it ideal for electric vehicles. Plus, in an effort to reduce urban pollution and carbon emissions, the government is encouraging EV adoption with slightly friendlier tax schemes.

Taxes and running costs of EVs

The tax incentives mean that despite having a higher OMV of $58,275, BMW’s iX3 electric vehicle’s total basic cost (this is the cost calculated based on OMV, GST, ARF, VES surcharge or rebate, registration fee, and COE, but excluding dealer margins) was $212,441 in December 2022, while the petrol-powered X3, with an OMV of $46,673 had a total basic cost of $237,992.[2]

Running costs are likely to be cheaper as well, though unlike petrol, the costs of charging can vary drastically. Some commercial parking lots offer free charging (but you’ll pay the parking fees), some charge by time, and others charge by the kilowatt hour.

For the sake of easier comparison, we’ll use the latter. Commercial charging rates can be free, though mostly range between $0.38/kWh to $0.59/kWh. Our high-end estimate for EV running costs will use $0.59/kWh, while our low-end estimate is based on the current residential tariff of $0.3127kWh, in the instance you’re able to charge at home. For petrol we will use $2.70/l that is the current price for 92RON. And we will use the average annual distance Singapore cars were driven in 2021 of 17,100km.[3]

EV versus petrol comparison

We’ve chosen three EVs and their closest petrol equivalents for comparison. To confuse matters further, one of the ‘petrol’ cars is actually a hybrid, which combines a petrol engine with a battery and electric motor.

  • Hyundai offers the Kona in both electric and hybrid guises. Interestingly, the electric model offered is the Long Range version, offering up to 484km of driving on a single charge, but this does mean a higher purchase price as well as higher road tax (because the Long Range version has a more powerful electric motor). Pitting that against the much cheaper—and very efficient—Kona Hybrid may prove a challenge:

    Model Price Road tax Fuel/electricity cost (high)
    Hyundai Kona 1.6 DCT Hybrid $156,999 $784 $1,800.63
    Hyundai Kona Electric 5dr S/R $227,888 $1,796 $823.46 ($1,553.71)

    The overall running cost for the Kona Electric vs Hybrid really doesn’t stack-up for the average Singapore driver, though the electric model may require less servicing than the more complex hybrid version. If, however, you drove twice the distance of a standard Singapore car and charged at home, the electric version would save around $1,000 a year, but that would still take decades to cover the difference in purchase price.

  • MG offers a range of EVs as well as a petrol-only model. How do they stack-up?

    Model Price Road tax Fuel/electricity cost (high)
    MG HS Petrol Turbo $154,888 $680 $3,185
    MG 5 EV Exclusive $159,888 $1,590 $935.75 ($1,765)

    Obviously, the electric MG is cheaper to run than the petrol model, and even with the most expensive charging option will take around 10 years to break even with the petrol model’s lower purchase price. If charging at home that break-even takes less than four years.

  • Mercedes-Benz is very aggressive with its fleet electrification, with five different EVs available in Singapore, and more on the horizon. But how do they stack-up cost-wise?

    Model Price Road tax Fuel/electricity cost (high)
    Mercedes-Benz GLA 180 $232,888 $586 $2,954.88
    Mercedes-Benz EQA $302,888 $1,738 $866.24 ($1,634.42)

    On an annual basis the Electric EQA is cheaper to run—even using the most expensive charging options—than the petrol GLA. The $70,000 difference in purchase price is never something an average driver will overcome, however.

Do EVs stack-up

Based on these examples, the economics of going electric right now are mixed, at best.

Arguably it is skewed a bit by the necessity of direct comparisons. Clearly, smaller, less powerful, EVs are cheaper for both road tax (which is calculated based on motor power—if you want a Porsche Taycan, for instance, the road tax is eye-watering) and in running costs.

Also, EVs make more sense if the purchase price is similar to their petrol equivalents—some EVs compared here may be much higher in specification than their petrol alternatives.

Still, if your aim is to do the right thing by the environment, then an EV may be the choice for you. And while Singapore’s electricity supply is mainly powered by gas—a fossil fuel—the overall emissions from EVs remain lower.

You may also want to support local industry by buying a vehicle made in Singapore, and this will shortly be an option. Hyundai will start selling Singapore-assembled EVs in the form of the Ioniq 5, Ioniq 6 and Kona in 2023. [4]

What about the future?

While guessing which way energy prices are heading is dangerous, the safe bet is upwards. Whether petrol or electricity prices rise quicker is harder to say, but the addition of renewables into the electric grid does promise to lower costs and emissions. If you’re lucky enough to live in a landed property and have solar panels, all your EV driving could be done for free (minus road tax).

Another change likely to happen is more Japanese EVs on the roads. With the exception of Nissan, which launched the Leaf EV more than a decade ago, Japanese carmakers have been slow off the mark with EVs. Japanese manufacturers currently account for a mere 5% of global EV sales , arguably because of the lead they held in hybrids.[5]

Expect to see more Japanese EVs in coming years, as well Chinese EV specialists entering the market. BYD is already here. Expect EV prices to come down.

Is now the time to go electric? Currently the answer is ‘maybe.’

Car Insurance for electric vehicles

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[1] https://www.lta.gov.sg/content/dam/ltagov/who_we_are/statistics_and_publications/statistics/pdf/MVP01-4_MVP_by_fuel.pdf

[2] https://onemotoring.lta.gov.sg/content/dam/onemotoring/Buying/Car_Cost_Update/M032-Car_Cost_Update.pdf

[3] https://datamall.lta.gov.sg/content/dam/datamall/datasets/Facts_Figures/Vehicle%20Population/Annual%20Mileage%20for%20Private%20Motor%20Vehicle.zip

[4] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/hyundai-to-roll-out-first-s-pore-assembled-cars-in-first-half-of-2023

[5] https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Business-trends/How-success-in-hybrid-cars-turned-Japan-into-an-EV-laggard

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