Musk's Tesla electric cars are about 'lifestyle', not climate: Masagos

Elon Musk has criticised Singapore for being slow to adopt electric vehicles and said in a January tweet the government "has been unwelcome". PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Singapore has a message for Elon Musk: Taking mass transit is a better climate-change solution than tooling around in one of his Tesla electric vehicles (EVs).

The city-state, which has said its efforts to cope with climate change are as crucial as military defence, has prioritised greater use of its trains and buses, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, minister for the environment and water resources, said in an interview on Wednesday (Aug 21).

Mr Musk has criticised the country for being slow to adopt EVs and said in a January tweet that the Government "has been unwelcome".

"What Elon Musk wants to produce is a lifestyle," Mr Masagos said on Wednesday when asked about the entrepreneur's comments. "We are not interested in a lifestyle. We are interested in proper solutions that will address climate problems."

Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The low-lying island nation faces an existential threat from the impacts of climate change and the country's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a national address on Sunday that it could cost more than $100 billion over the next century to protect it from rising sea levels, hotter temperatures and more intense rainfall.

Singapore's trains and buses cover much of the island's 720 sq km, with the newest subway routes featuring driverless carriages and several of the most-popular bus routes traversed by double-decker carriers. The country, with a population of about six million, is aiming to enhance mass transit options so that by 2040, any trip within the country will take no longer than 45 minutes.

Even though Singapore is focused on public transport, the nation is still uniquely positioned to transition to plug-ins, according to Mr Masagos. That's because the state controls car ownership licences, which it gives out on a 10-year basis and can be used as an instrument of change, he said in the interview.

"If there's any country which can convert from petrol cars to 100 per cent EVs, it will be Singapore," he said. But, he added, it would be difficult to develop adequate charging stations with 85 per cent of the population living in high-density, government-supported housing.

"Just choosing a parking spot is already problematic," Mr Masagos said. "And now you want to say who gets the charging point. We do not have the solution yet."

Singapore received its first charging point at a retail fuel station earlier this month, according to Royal Dutch Shell, which plans to open nine more by October. The company commissioned a study that showed about 52 per cent of Singaporeans are deterred from buying an electric car because they think there aren't enough places to plug in.

In Mr Masagos's estimation, hydrogen is a better long-term solution than electric vehicles for decarbonising transportation, in part because of the carbon footprint from mining the metals needed to produce car batteries and the issues around their eventual disposal.

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