Electric cars will be built at a highly automated factory in Singapore, marking the return of automobile manufacturing here and incorporating first-of-its-kind features.
At a virtual groundbreaking ceremony of the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Centre in Jurong yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the investment by the South Korean carmaker was a nod to Singapore's strengths.
"I am happy that Hyundai has chosen Singapore to locate your newest facility. It is an investment of almost $400 million, and may produce up to 30,000 vehicles per year by 2025, five years from now," said PM Lee.
The centre, to be completed by end-2022, will serve as an open innovation lab for research and development into mobility concepts, which observers reckon will include autonomous vehicles and new forms of ride-sharing.
Sitting on a 44,000 sq m plot - larger than five football fields - in the Jurong Innovation District, and with a built-up area of some 90,000 sq m, the facility will be futuristic.
It will have a landing pad for passenger drones - which Hyundai is also developing - and employ renewable energy sources such as solar and hydrogen.
When ready, the facility will have a small-scale electric car assembly line which is expected to produce up to 30,000 vehicles a year.
Customers will be able to purchase and customise their vehicles on their phones. Once an order is confirmed, production will begin.
Customers can then watch their cars being assembled at the centre.
The facility will be a "vivid demonstration" that Singapore has what it takes to dream big and reinvent itself, said PM Lee. "We did not think that Singapore would one day be manufacturing cars again. But Singapore is where we have made the impossible, possible."
He said Singapore had a car assembly industry from as early as the 1940s, but abandoned it in 1980 when commercial competitiveness began to favour high-volume plants.
But 40 years on, with the revival of electric vehicles, the game has changed again with growing interest in cleaner, smarter vehicles and cities facing pressure to move people around in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Automotive activities are becoming viable in Singapore again, he said. "Electric vehicles have a different supply chain, fewer mechanical parts and more electronics, which plays to Singapore's strengths."
That is why global companies producing automotive electronics like Delphi and Infineon have been in Singapore for some time, he added.
This will hopefully open up new growth areas for the economy, he said, and create exciting jobs such as Industrial Internet of Things engineers, data scientists and digital supply chain strategists.
Joined virtually by South Korean Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Sung Yun-mo and Hyundai Motor Group executive vice-chairman Chung Eui-sun at the event, Mr Lee added that the facility could pave the way for more South Korean companies to invest here, partner with local businesses and collaborate with universities and research institutions.
Hyundai said the facility will employ various advanced manufacturing and logistical systems, including artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and robotics.
Hyundai will also trial battery-as-a-service, where consumers buy an electric car without its battery - which can account for half its cost - and then lease the cells from Hyundai. This could reduce the cost of an electric vehicle dramatically.
The company would not reveal the number of people the facility will employ, saying it "will be determined later... as the project evolves". Earlier, a spokesman said it would create "hundreds of jobs".
Hyundai's move comes after a bid by British home appliance maker Dyson to make electric cars in Singapore. Dyson, however, pulled the plug on the venture.