Budget debate: Hurdles to widespread electric vehicle adoption in Singapore

The electric vehicle Early Adoption Incentive that kicked in last month is among those that will run till 2023.
The electric vehicle Early Adoption Incentive that kicked in last month is among those that will run till 2023.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The lack of charging stations and the higher cost of owning and using an electric vehicle (EV) compared with a petrol or diesel car are among the hurdles in the way of having battery-powered cars adopted more widely in Singapore, said MPs on Wednesday (Feb 24).

Raising these two factors, Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) also suggested that the 10-year certificate of entitlement (COE) lifespan for EVs be reviewed.

"Is it possible for us to consider a longer lifespan for COEs for EVs, since EVs are less of a pollution? And definitely, frequent changing of cars is not environmentally friendly," he said, noting that in comparison, internal combustion engine vehicles become more pollutive as they age and become less efficient.

He also asked whether the public sector can take the lead in converting all public vehicles to EVs, such as those of the police, Land Transport Authority, National Parks Board, and the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

"It is well and good to push our plans on EVs. But we have to recognise that it takes a lot to win over Singaporeans to move in this direction," he said during the debate on the Budget statement.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat last week announced several measures to promote the adoption of EVs, including changes to road tax for such vehicles and increasing the targeted number of public EV charging points by 2030 from 28,000 to 60,000.

In his speech, Dr Lim drew comparisons to China and Britain and asked what would be the ideal ratio of charging stations to vehicles, noting that there were about 974,000 vehicles in Singapore as at 2020. This includes buses, taxis, and motorcycles.

He also highlighted the issue of maintenance.

"Are our engineers, technicians and mechanics sufficiently equipped to handle EVs? There are many independent motor workshops who would have to upgrade their skill sets to maintain and repair EVs," he noted.

"Overall, how much cost effective would it be to use an EV versus an internal combustion engine vehicle?"

Ms Nadia Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said that while the financial incentives announced were welcome and could create visible change in the vehicle landscape, Singapore is still a "far cry away" from having mainstream market adoption for EVs.

She cited the work of American management consultant Geoffrey Moore, who said there was a "chasm of adoption" between the early and mainstream markets. Widespread adoption requires having 15 to 18 per cent adoption rates or more.

"Many of the incentives have a stop date by 2023 attached to them. And it may take us longer than that, to cross the chasm," said Ms Nadia.

While she did not cite specific incentives, the EV Early Adoption Incentive introduced in Budget 2020 that kicked in last month is among those that will run till 2023.