Challenges flagged over wider electric vehicle adoption

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 yesterday.

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 and less efficient as they age.

He asked whether the public sector can take the lead in converting all public vehicles to EVs, such as the police, Land Transport Authority and 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 had announced last week several measures to promote EV adoption, 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 the ideal ratio of charging stations to vehicles would be, noting that there were about 974,000 vehicles in Singapore as at last year. These include 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 (which) 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 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 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 running till 2023.

She said one of the biggest consumer concerns when it comes to EVs is reliable, convenient and consistent access to charging stations.

But considerations for installing these stations could be complex, such as how to keep charging affordable for consumers, yet profitable enough for those who install them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2021, with the headline 'Challenges flagged over wider electric vehicle adoption'. Subscribe