Singapore buyers finally get their hands on Tesla cars

Lawyer Teng Po Yew and his father, retiree James Teng, with the new Tesla Model 3 at SPH News Centre yesterday. The younger Mr Teng was the first customer to collect his new Tesla car.
Lawyer Teng Po Yew and his father, retiree James Teng, with the new Tesla Model 3 at SPH News Centre yesterday. The younger Mr Teng was the first customer to collect his new Tesla car. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Tesla delivered its first cars - the Model 3 - to customers yesterday - five months after the American electric car brand opened its sales portal here, and five years after founder Elon Musk started accepting worldwide pre-bookings for its most affordable car.

The delivery took place just after 10am at Tesla's unfinished showroom-cum-service centre in Toa Payoh Lorong 8, which was previously occupied by Nissan.

Country manager Christopher Bousigues said: "We are putting our customers' needs ahead of our own. If we are to start delivering cars only when our showroom is ready, it would be another two months."

Tesla would not say how many cars it delivered, but The Straits Times understands that only a handful were collected yesterday, with more planned over the following days.

The first in line was lawyer Teng Po Yew, 35, who arrived at 10am in his three-year-old Volkswagen Golf. He was accompanied by his wife and his parents.

Mr Teng said his father, Mr James Teng, 74, had placed pre-bookings for the Model 3 in 2016. He then confirmed his bookings - for two Model 3 Performance cars - when the Singapore sales portal opened in February.

The senior Mr Teng, a retiree, said: "When I was in Hainan and Tibet in 2014, 2015, I noticed all the motorcycles were electric. The Chinese are not doing this for environmental reasons. They are doing this because it made economic sense.

"And if something makes economic sense, nothing can stop it."

He said he was drawn to Tesla because of "all the publicity", and he even visited its factory in Fremont, California, to find out more about the company.

The long wait did not deter him. "When I was with (insurer) AIA a long time ago, I bought $70,000 of (parent group) AIG shares. I was able to buy my Jaguar XJ when the shares appreciated in value.

"So, I thought I could do the same with Tesla."

He bought US$70,000 (S$94,780) worth of Tesla shares in 2016, and because of the increase in its stock price in recent years, he was able to pay for two Model 3s as well as a Model X SUV which he plans to buy, "and more".

The Tengs, who live in a landed house in Thomson, which has a solar roof, are waiting for the Tesla home wall charger to be approved.

The younger Mr Teng said: "Meanwhile, we will just go to a shopping mall to charge the car. We chose the Performance variant because of the range."

The Model 3 Performance has a stated range of 567km, while the Standard variant has 448km. Based on the average mileage clocked by cars here, Mr Teng would have to recharge his car only once every 12 days.

The Model 3 is his first electric car. Asked if he had concerns about battery degradation - where a battery loses its ability to maintain its charge over time - or battery fires, he said: "If you look at the statistics, electric cars outperform internal combustion engine cars in this respect.

"Electric car fires get all the press because they are new."

Mr Teng added that he is also looking forward to the technologies in Tesla, such as its semi-autonomous functions. He said that "the thing I look forward to most is not ever having to drive on the CTE" or Central Expressway, which is notorious for its heavy traffic.

His wife, Ms Emerald Loh, 34, corrected him: "No, the thing he looks forward to most is the car's pre-cooling function." She was referring to a function which allows a user to turn on the car air-conditioner remotely, ahead of time, so that the cabin is cool upon entry.

Why did he not buy an electric car from another brand, then? "Tesla is just far ahead of the other brands in terms of battery technology and performance. There is nothing out there in its price range that matches it," said Mr Teng.

And why did the Tengs not buy from a parallel importer, as parallel-imported Tesla's have been around since 2018? "We very nearly did," said Ms Loh, a head of marketing. "But we are glad we did not. The prices were just so much higher than Tesla's."

Mr Teng's older brother, a doctor, will be collecting his Model 3 Performance today.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2021, with the headline Singapore buyers finally get their hands on Tesla cars. Subscribe